The Los Angeles Lakers’ failures this season can not be chalked up to any one person or entity of the franchise. With the team eliminated from the play-in game and the season fully over now, the stories of what led to those shortcomings have begun to come out and, predictably, aren’t painting a particularly pretty picture of a high-functioning and positive work environment.
Whether it was Russell Westbrook or LeBron James, the Lakers had missteps along the way that led to their ultimate downfall. And as the finger-pointing will continue in the days and weeks after the end of the season, various people are going to be blamed.
Considering all that, here’s a look at the reports and headlines around the Lakers over the last few days.
Westbrook’s film room feuds with coaches
It has been well-known — far pre-dating his season in LA — that Russell Westbrook is a stubborn player. It’s both what’s made him great, and what makes him the polarizing figure he is.
Coming into the season, Westbrook vowed to adapt however necessary to help the Lakers win. But when it came to practicing what he preached, Westbrook balked. Shams Charania of The Athletic posted a piece on Monday morning that included reporting on the Lakers’ head coaching search as well an anecdote about Westbrook’s attitude off the court this season (emphasis mine):
Westbrook remained a professional throughout the season, but his partnership with Vogel failed to gain traction as the season went on. In an early-season film session, assistant coach David Fizdale challenged Westbrook on his shot selection, and the two had an animated exchange, sources said. That was one of the instances when Westbrook was challenged by a coach or teammate, and the style the coaching staff envisioned for Westbrook did not match what took place on the court.
When Westbrook met with James and Davis prior to the blockbuster draft-night trade last year, sources say the league’s all-time leader in triple-doubles assured them he would accept any role given to him and be willing to adapt based on critique. The outcome of the season shows a common ground was not found.
This story is just the latest instance of people behind the scenes pointing out that Westbrook had little time for constructive criticism, either from now-fired head coach Frank Vogel, Fizdale in the anecdote above, other coaches and teammates. While Westbrook disputed the truthfulness of such reports during his exit interview, this many instances of smoke would certainly seem to indicate a fire.
Russell Westbrook is now talking about fighting "made-up stories" about him and his conduct and relationships in the Laker organization. Says "I don't want to get into details" when asked about potential examples.— Kyle Goon (@kylegoon) April 11, 2022
And while Westbrook’s role was constantly changing, it very clearly featured little adapting from him to adapt along the way. While the blame pie of the Lakers season will have many slices to it and Westbrook certainly isn’t necessarily most responsible, he should still receive a hefty amount of it.
LeBron James’ poor body language
In speaking about a blame pie, figuring out the size of the slice for LeBron would be tricky. On one hand, this season would have been far more painful and far less successful without him. At the same time, LeBron had a big role in getting Westbrook to Los Angeles.
He also is not afraid of showing his frustration on the court at times, something anyone watching can see. Brad Turner and Dan Woike’s piece in the LA Times detailed how James’ poor body language in reaction to Westbrook, and how it impacted others in the locker room.
Midway through the season, players began to notice James’ body language after poor Westbrook play, an on-court sign of recognition that his and the Lakers’ plan wasn’t going to work. Some Lakers players were bothered by how regularly James’ shoulders would slump and how his head would hang after botched opportunities to score or defend.
This isn’t the first time teammates have noticed this as an issue. Back in 2019, the team held a players-only meeting focused on LeBron’s body language. Similarly, Rajon Rondo has previously criticized LeBron for how his poor body language impacted the Baby Lakers during the 2018-19 season.
If we’re criticizing Westbrook for not adapting, LeBron deserves the same energy. His open frustration has been consistent for three years running now, and continues to make bad situations worse, as was the case this season.
Lakers assistant coach staff remains
While Frank Vogel was fired unofficially on Sunday and officially on Monday, his coaching staff will not part ways with the franchise yet, as the Lakers intend on retaining them for the short term for a very practical reason.
L.A. will try to straddle the line of having assistants in place for player development in the interim while eventually, presumably, creating spots for the next head coach to add to their staff https://t.co/eytkJxCTCP— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) April 11, 2022
The most likely reason for this, on top of player development, is to have a staff around to work out draft prospects in the weeks and months leading up to the draft. This is what the team did with Miles Simon the last time they fired a coach, with him running draft workouts while they searched for a Luke Walton replacement. It also gives the franchise some form of continuity and allows things to keep operating something close to normal during this period until a new coach potentially brings in a new coaching staff to take over those duties.