Perhaps lost in the shuffle of the chaos that surrounded the postgame comments made by Russell Westbrook on Tuesday was the simple fact that, yet again, the Lakers were blown out by a title contender. A fake fourth-quarter comeback couldn’t even hide the fact that the Lakers were played off the court at home for the near entirety of the 48 minutes played, with or without Westbrook on the floor.
It was only the most recent moment of the Lakers not looking up to snuff against legitimate contenders this season, and it was a loss so bad and impactful that it forced public admittance by the Lakers that the current roster is not capable of contending as is.
LeBron James echoed that revelation after the game in a surprisingly direct press conference. In a back and forth with the media, James was asked if this game revealed anything deeper about the team.
“Yeah, it tells us we ain’t on their level,” James said. “I mean, I probably could have told you that before the game started.”
Asked if this current roster could get to that level, James was... frank in his response.
“Where they are right now? I don’t know,” James said. “Do I think we can reach the level where Milwaukee is right now? No. Is that what you want to hear from me? No. OK? You want to follow-up?”
The follow-up did come, with James asked if the Lakers could get to the level the Bucks are at this season.
“I would hope so,” James said. “But right now, no. We can’t get to where they are right now. I mean, they’re the defending champions for a reason. I guarantee if you would have asked teams coming out of the bubble if they could get to the level that we were playing at when we won a championship, they’d have said the same thing.”
James can add as many qualifiers as he wants to his answer, but the message came across all the same. The Lakers are not good enough right now, something that has been very clear to outsiders for some time.
But it hits different when it’s James that is saying the things fans may have been saying for weeks and months. The belief within the Lakers for so long was that, with an extended run of the team being healthy, the Lakers could still not just salvage the season, but become a true contender.
Reality, though, is often cruel, and the Lakers are now realizing that such a best-case scenario will not be coming to fruition. In fact, what is playing out is something much, much, much closer to the worst-case scenario for how the Westbrook experiment could have gone. The problem is the Lakers don’t have many options to fix their issues, especially when it comes to Westbrook himself.
Considering the level of input James — and Anthony Davis to a lesser degree — had in acquiring Westbrook this offseason over other options — Buddy Hield included — they, too, should shoulder a fair amount of responsibility for this going so wrong. It was always a high-risk, high-reward move that has flamed out spectacularly.
The roster as a whole, though, is a supremely flawed one that will require much more turnover than simply shipping out Westbrook. The reality is, this Lakers season is trending closer to a lost year than a title-contending one, and James’ comments on Tuesday only served to indicate that the players are as aware of that as everyone else is.