The 2021-22 Lakers season has been as disappointing as any other in recent memory, maybe even rivaling the injury-marred horror show that was the 2012-13 campaign. Like that season, the Lakers entered this year with a revamped roster around their aging superstar thanks to a blockbuster trade for one of the most accomplished point guards in the NBA.
Also like those Lakers, these ones were expected to contend with a three-headed monster of a superteam in the east with their own “big three,” only for everything to go haywire almost immediately. And in another parallel, the disappointing on-court product has been overshadowed by off-court drama that has thrown everything into further chaos. We even had another Phil Jackson cameo!
Multiple conversations with staff members and players have included some version of the phrase, “at least there’s only a month left” — not exactly the kind of message you hear from a group with realistic visions of playing until early summer.
Think about how over this season multiple people and players in the organization have to be to say that kind of stuff to a reporter. They may as well be ending timeouts with “1, 2, 3 Cancun.”
That mentality also represents a big departure in some ways from what took place down the stretch in the 2013 season. That was the year where Kobe Bryant used up everything that was left of his physical prime to drag the Lakers back into playoff contention, refusing to write the season off.
The cost, as you may remember, proved astronomical. Bryant tore his Achilles tendon just before the end of the regular season and battled injuries for the rest of his career, never able to fully recapture his physical prowess on the court. The Lakers made the playoffs as the eighth seed, but without Bryant, they were quietly swept by the San Antonio Spurs.
LeBron James is not Kobe Bryant, for better or for worse. James has been far and away the Lakers’ best player and is their obvious clubhouse leader, but he’s clearly taking steps to preserve his own aging, injury-hampered body in order to extend his playing career so he can achieve his stated goal of sharing the court with his eldest son.
James can still reach back for vintage performances like his 56-point explosion to carry the Lakers to their only post-All-Star-break victory against the Golden State Warriors, but he can’t reasonably be expected to do that every night, nor should he necessarily be willing to, given that the rest of the team is arguably worse than the 2013 squad.
Unlike Steve Nash nearly a decade ago, Russell Westbrook isn’t hampered by serious injuries of his own, but is rather just plain bad, unable to blow by and jump over defenders like he once did, and unwilling to practice what he preached about playing alongside another ball-dominant superstar. It’s clear he’s worn out his welcome with everyone on the Lakers, from the coaching staff to his teammates, and his days with his hometown team are likely numbered.
So, yeah, not that this is exactly a shock, but it’s clear that this team has at least begrudgingly accepted the fact that they’re not making a deep playoff run this season and their ceiling is likely an early exit in the play-in tournament. We’ll see what happens in the offseason, but if it’s anything like the season the Lakers have just had, it won’t be pretty.