In 2020, the team was 29-7 going into the deadline. In 2021, although times felt grim given injuries to LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the Lakers felt comfortable that they’d be fine once they returned, given their suitable 28-16 record.
The Lakers’ outlook is much darker this year, as they come out on the other side of the deadline with a 26-30 record, in ninth place in the Western Conference. It seems as if there were no moves they could have made that wouldn’t have just hurt them even more down the road after most of their valuable trade assets were shipped out for one Russell Westbrook in the 2021 offseason.
So... what now?
Aside from poaching some players from the buyout market once it materializes, this is the roster the Lakers will have for the final 26 games of the regular season. The first of those remaining contests will be a daunting one, as the Lakers will take on the 41-15 Golden State Warriors on Saturday.
Here’s what to look out for in that contest.
Will we see improvements now that trade season is over?
NBA players may be capable of feats of seemingly superhuman strength and coordination, but at the end of the day, they are still human. It’s a simple thought, but it’s one that can be easily forgotten when they’re used as trade pieces between multi-billion dollar organizations to win games and ultimately boost the bottom line.
When the players are used as pawns, it’s natural for their feelings to be hurt as their owners, general managers, and coaches tell them nice things to their faces just to shop them around in search of upgrades behind their backs.
Sometimes this can affect the play of certain players and/or teams prior to the deadline. It’s something Kyle Kuzma once explained back in 2019, when most of the team was rumored to be included in trade talks to acquire Anthony Davis from the Pelicans.
Although Russell Westbrook has struggled for stretches here and there throughout the season, he may be in the midst of his worst one yet. In the four games that Westbrook has played in February, he’s making only 27.3% of his field goals, resulting in 10.3 points per game.
Those are atrocious numbers for any player, let alone for a team’s highest-paid one. Say what you will about Westbrook, but those numbers pale in comparison even to his rocky season thus far, as he was averaging 18.9 PPG on 44.5% field-goal shooting prior to the start of February.
This could be a case of Westbrook being in his own head — a phrase that his teammates have invoked about him — given his name has been in as many trade rumors as anyone on this team not named Talen Horton-Tucker. It should be noted that he did miss Wednesday’s game against the Trail Blazers with lower-back tightness, an issue that may have started during this play against the Clippers last week.
Although Westbrook stated after Friday’s practice that he will see how he feels tomorrow morning, Frank Vogel said he was moving around much better at practice and that he’s a “possibility” to play against the Warriors. Hopefully the injury isn’t bothering him and we can see if he plays much better now that he knows he will be on this team for the rest of the season.
That said, his explanation for why it was bothering him didn’t necessarily lend a lot of hope that his relationship with Vogel has turned a page.
“Nah, it comes and goes... I’m not accustomed to sitting down for long stretches and getting up and then like moving quickly. It kind of stiffens up a little bit,” Westbrook said.”
And even though James and Davis were obviously not included in trade rumors this season, hopefully they will play better after weird games from the two on Wednesday against the Trail Blazers. On that night, LeBron had six turnovers while Davis did not attempt a field goal in the entire fourth quarter, with both seemingly more focused on what trade discussions they’d have (or not) with Rob Pelinka the next day.
But despite all these recent fireworks, without the mental burden of the deadline weighing on them, we’ll see if this team can improve down the stretch, starting with a tough matchup against the 41-15 Warriors on Saturday.
Notes and Updates
- While calling Westbrook a “possibility” for Saturday, Vogel also noted that LeBron James and Dwight Howard “may play” tomorrow while Carmelo Anthony is “less likely”. LeBron was a game-time decision with his knee for the Trail Blazers game. Howard has missed the past three games with lower back tightness (although he was active for the Trail Blazers game), while Anthony has missed the same games with a hamstring issue he picked up last Thursday against the Clippers.
- The Warriors are coming off a bad loss against the Knicks on Thursday. Andre Iguodala was out in that game, his 11th missed game in the past 12 contests. He’s listed with back tightness, something that flared up in the one game he played in those 12, as he only played 5 minutes in that one. His availability for the game against the Lakers is uncertain at this time.
- Draymond Green won’t return to the team from his back injury until after the All-Star Game break. Sophomore James Wiseman will probably be out with the knee injury sustained last season, but don’t rule anything out, as he played in full contact 3-on-3 on Tuesday.
- Although the Lakers didn’t make any trades, the rest of the league was very active. No other trade made as many headlines as the one between the Nets and 76ers, as Ben Simmons was finally dealt (along with Seth Curry, Andre Drummond, and some picks) for James Harden to play under Daryl Morey again. For more coverage of that, check out our sister sites, Liberty Ballers and Nets Daily.
The Lakers and Warriors will play at 5:30 p.m. PT on Saturday. The game will be exclusively shown on ABC.