Externally, Tuesday night felt like a point of no return for the Lakers after Russell Westbrook’s very pointed comments at the coaching staff following a blowout loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. Internally, the Lakers may have come to the same realization.
After weeks and months of insistence that they could make things right this season, Tuesday served as a reality check of where the team actually is, aligning the internal view of the team with most external evaluations.
And, according to Bill Oram of The Athletic, the Lakers have finally given up on the idea that the team as constructed can be contenders.
Sources have indicated that the Lakers no longer believe they can win at a high level with Westbrook alongside James and Davis, but prior to Tuesday the line of thinking was that the Lakers would be unwilling to wave the white flag and admit their summer blockbuster was a failure. Instead, they would prefer to wait until the offseason, when they could also include a 2029 pick in a potential deal for another max-contract player looking for a new home.
But the tone after Tuesday’s loss suggested the Lakers are in need of more immediate action. Could things be so dire that the Lakers would be better off including that ’27 pick in a swap now — say for Houston’s John Wall? — even if it means a lesser return? Desperation got the Lakers into this mess and it might take desperation to get them out.
Either way, whether it is by Thursday’s deadline or in the summer, the Lakers know they need to find their way out of the Russell Westbrook business.
One Lakers staffer who had reservations about the trade when it was made in July recently told The Athletic, “I didn’t think it would be this bad.”
That mirrors a report from after Tuesday’s game that indicated Lakers players did not think standing pat was a “viable option” if the hope was to contend for a title. In reality, it’s been apparent for a much longer time that this current iteration of the Lakers was doomed, but injuries served as a convenient excuse for a roster that has almost exclusively underperformed since Opening Night.
Westbrook’s implosion paired with the looming trade deadline, though, adds a sense of urgency to everything. While patience has been the edict preached by the team all season long, there is now a very real zero hour that the organization is facing on Thursday afternoon, after which their flexibility to make any meaningful changes is effectively gone. It doesn’t help that the Lakers themselves admitted they never really had any sort of viable Plan B for the Westbrook experiment failing, either.
The fact that the team has now had a small handful of games fully healthy — or as healthy as they’re likely ever going to be this season — and have produced results like Tuesday’s loss also likely served as a wake-up call internally.
Now, it’s all just a matter of how many of the team’s problems that can be fixed over the next 24-ish hours before the trade deadline. The rest of the league is just as aware as the Lakers now are as to how poorly things are going for them, and already hadn’t been signing up to take Westbrook off the organization’s hands even before there was a greater sense of need for the Lakers to offload him.
So, while the Lakers practiced patience this season, all that restraint has left them with is a shortened window to attempt to fix something everyone now agrees has gone dramatically wrong. We’ll see what they can do to shift course by Thursday at 12 p.m. PT.
To keep up with all the latest reports before the deadline, check out our 2022 Lakers trade rumors tracker. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.