Unless the Los Angeles Lakers go on a completely unexpected run over the next couple months, the 2021-22 campaign is going to be looked back on as an unmitigated disaster with a very clear starting point. Ever since they traded for Russell Westbrook, they have simply not looked like a competent organization.
Typically speaking, seasons like this one are followed with legitimate overhaul. Yet by most reports, however, it’s extremely unlikely that Rob Pelinka, Kurt or Linda Rambis, LeBron James or, clearly, Jeanie Buss, will face any serious questions about their job security moving forward.
And sure, that core group did win a championship a mere 16 months or so ago. It’s just difficult to give credit for that title ring when everyone involved sprinted in the opposite direction from the identity that made took them to that level of success.
Job security is the ultimate form of organizational accountability. The number one reason teams struggle for decades under the same owner (see: The Knicks, New York) is because they can’t get fired and replaced by competent people without doing serious harm to that team or the NBA’s brand. Though, in the case of James Dolan... well that’s a different topic.
The number one reason I have grown so frustrated with this season and this Lakers organization is because even after all this, the people truly responsible don’t have to fear for their jobs as one normally would after bungling things the way they have.
Frank Vogel is probably going to get fired, and Russell Westbrook is almost guaranteed to not be a Laker next year, but foundationally, the people who either didn’t empower Vogel or did empower Russ are the ones who should pay for this season.
But again, all reports point to Pelinka being safe (albeit somewhat less so around the league) because he’s trusted by the Rambi and Jeanie. James isn’t getting traded unless he demands it. The Lakers’ relationship with Klutch Sports has obviously landed James and Anthony Davis, but it’s also seemingly limited the talent pool they can look at and led to some pretty brutal decisions (signing Kendrick Nunn and keeping Talen Horton-Tucker over retaining Alex Caruso — though they didn’t need to do that despite it repeatedly being presented as such).
So where is the actual organizational shift going to come from? Maybe they’ll learn from their mistakes on their own. We know they’re aware of the mistakes just from the sheer number of leaks assigning blame all over the organization, but the only progress to actually fix this season has been waiving DeAndre Jordan in order to sign — you’ll never believe this — another small guard.
Without accountability, stagnation becomes almost inevitable. Lakers fans have to hope it comes from somewhere, or else we’ll be right back in this situation sooner than anyone wants to believe.
This week on “The Hook,” Aaron Larsuel and I spoke about exactly that, then took a look at a title picture that is a lot more open than it typically is in the NBA, and asked whether that will remain the case next season as the Lakers play catchup. We wrapped on a fun story from Aaron about the time he saved Gilbert Arenas from a potentially serious injury and some kind words for friend of the show Jonathan Tjarks of The Ringer, who wrote a beautiful, gut-wrenching essay about his ongoing battle with cancer.
And for a short-form recap pod, check out Lakers Lowdown, in which Anthony Irwin recaps the previous day’s news and gets you ready for the day ahead in LakerLand, every weekday morning on the Silver Screen & Roll Podcast feed.