SportsChump and the Full Court Pest debate the 2021-22 Lakers and where things went so horribly wrong

Welcome to the umpteenth article, interview and soundbite you’ll encounter discussing the disaster that was the 2021-22 Los Angeles Lakers basketball season.

In a recent social media squabble, I ran into an old friend, Wally Os, a.k.a. The Full Court Pest.  Os is an altogether different sort of basketball fan.  As you’ll soon discover, Os is like Zach Galifianakis at the end of the first Hangover movie where he walks into the casino, card counts as if he’s in the Matrix and takes the blackjack dealers for all their chips.  I can literally engage him in a Facebook conversation about basketball, log off to go to bed and wake up in the morning to find him still typing out his argument.  To put it kindly, Os sees hoops in an altogether different light.  Sometimes he’s right.  Sometimes he’s wrong.  Either way, he has an opinion that he is not afraid to share.  I guess that’s why they call him The Pest.

I recently posted something along the lines of Frank Vogel taking the fall for not having the cojones to tell Russell Westbrook he should come off the bench.  As we all saw coming, Vogel, who led the Lakers to a title in the bubble, was relieved of his duties.  Whether it’s entirely his fault or not (it’s not), someone had to be held responsible and the Lakers sure aren’t going to fire LeBron James.

The Pest responded to my Vogel post, suggesting that injuries were to blame for the Lakers season, an argument I quickly splashed water on.  We all know this is the worst team record-wise LeBron James has ever been a part of.  He nearly led the league in scoring, pouring in thirty a game, making it at least somewhat difficult to assess blame in that regard (although he did help choose this roster… allegedly).  While defense wins championships, scoring generally gets you to the playoffs.   You have to go to the league’s 16th leading scorer (Shai Gilgeous-Alexander 24.5 ppg) to find a player whose team didn’t reach the post-season.

We also know that the Lakers recruited Anthony Davis, whose long list of injuries make him look like the NBA’s version of the game of Operation.  Davis played in only forty games this season.  The Pest is right in that regard.  With him healthy, we’re probably not having this conversation.  But we are.

What we saw regardless of who was on the floor for L.A. was an absolute train wreck of a basketball team.  They were 26th in the league in points allowed and 28th in the league in turnovers committed.  That is far from sound basketball.  In fact, it’s the exact opposite.

To say this team had high hopes is an understatement.  With LeBron James’ career coming to an end, or so it would seem, those who believed the hype thought this collection of talent, featuring five Hall of Famers, would contend for a title.

They missed the playoffs altogether in a conference where only six out of sixteen teams do so.

Changes will be made but before we get to all that, I’d like to introduce The Pest for his take.  His Pestulance, what’s your opinion on the Lakers this season?  Where, in your opinion did things go wrong and what do you think the near future holds?  Is all lost in La La Land and why you don’t think the Lakers missing the playoffs this year was such a “huge thing?”


Pest:

First off, I want to address the conspiracy theory sports analysis. I have no doubt LeBron has input on major team decisions like any of the major superstars like Curry/KD/etc., are given. 0 doubt. But the narrative that LeGM is the one “building rosters” is as farfetched as it is unfounded. Q Anon may as well be in charge of the Lakers roster. Feel free to provide a shred of evidence of this and I’ll gladly concede this argument.

We both know the only thing confirming this is an unconfirmed rumor that “The Lakers decided to go with Westbrook when LeBron et all started talking with him.” That’s really it. Did Pelinka ask him to contact Westbrook and recruit him? Was he their number one target since he was the top name value player available last summer? It’s entirely made up and speculative. What we do know, for certain, is that LeBron “really” wanted the Lakers to make changes before the trade deadline and the front office clearly declined. Which indicates that Bron is not in control. At all. And recently Vogel has been fired. Not Pelinka. So, let’s drop allegedly for the evidence based no… LeBron does not control the front office. Pelinka made moves for Westbrook because despite being paid insane sums of money, he too was fooled by a fraudulent basketball player past his prime of winning a fraudulent MVP award.

Now let’s move on to actual basketball. Regardless of who was on the floor for LA, it was an absolute train wreck of a season? What? I’m not sure how they teach math in Florida. I’m not sure I comprehend how people evaluate facts in that state, or really much of anything according to https://www.reddit.com/r/FloridaMan/.

But let’s review some facts despite how they don’t seem to be taken seriously there. It’s a fact that the Lakers had 39 starting lineups this season compared to 31 wins. It’s a fact that when Anthony Davis and Lebron played together they went 11-10 which extrapolates to 8th place in the West. It’s also a fact that of those 21 games a number of them were with both LeBron and Davis playing banged up not even close to 100%. It’s also a fact that when LeBron was in the lineup, not even healthy, but merely in the lineup they went 25-31 which translates to 36 wins and a spot in the modern-day playoffs/play in tourney. That’s despite a number of those games with LeBron playing hurt.

What we saw, when the actual team they built was on the floor, was a contender vying for a title. It’s clear. It’s not made up. We just didn’t see it much because they were never on the floor. Even when they were they were never healthy.

To say this team had high hopes is an understatement.  With LeBron James’ career coming to an end, or so it would seem, those who believed the hype thought this collection of talent, featuring five Hall of Famers, would contend for a title.

Obviously the team had high hopes. Obviously they were strategically planning a Spurs/Pop style late season run instead of full season dominance due to the overall age of their talent. We knew that when the season started. Obviously, they took a dice roll on health. So why is everyone pretending they didn’t know that and ridiculously behaving like this is some failed experiment?

It’s not a failed experiment. LeBron James and Anthony Davis have already won a freaking title together. It’s not some bumble. You can’t win titles when your best players are hurt and/or playing hurt all season. It’s as simple as that and no amount of rhetorical bullshitting is changing what’s obviously another fact. No, the key to LA’s title was not Alex Fucking Caruso. Dude was a role player. The difference was come March/April LeBron James and Anthony Davis were healthy, went on a run, and demolished everyone in their way to win a title.

Aug 10, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA; Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James (23) and Anthony Davis (3) celebrate after defeating the Denver Nuggets 124-121 during an NBA basketball game Monday, Aug. 10, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. at AdventHealth Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ashley Landis/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

People want to make inane comparisons to the Warriors. Oh man. Curry didn’t have Klay or Dray for most of the season either! It’s such a dramatically thoughtless and indefensible take. In 2020, when their stars were legitimately hurt for most of the season, they only won 15 games. The next, when they had Steph for most of the season, they also missed the playoffs while learning for a whole season how to play without Klay. And in 2022, they had Steph for way more games than Bron, Klay for way more games than Anthony Davis, and both Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole had massive career years. You can debate the legitimacy of Wiggins starting in the All-Star game all you want.   The fact remains they had an all-star player who had previously dropped 24 PPG for a whole season, having a career year, as their fourth leading scorer.

Yea it’s not shocking when you have multiple players not only capable of stepping up but clearly doing so and your best all time player doesn’t sustain serious injuries, you’re going to have a better season. Who were those guys on LAL? Who was even capable of filling in? Exactly. And other than this paragraph I’m not even going to mention Russell Westbrook. This is essentially a discussion about blaming the failure of the Lakers to make the playoffs on LeBron James and Anthony Davis, as if it’s some personal incompetence on their part to play basketball, because they got injured.

At this point, we all know what Russell Westbrook is. I clearly knew in 2017 when I made this video of his 51 point playoff triple double of empty/junk stats while people were raving over his fraudulent MVP award. Not so surprisingly, the people repeating me now were not listening then. We know what Westbrook is and it’s certainly not an asset to win but just the opposite. Westbrook led the team in minutes but is pathetically 8th in win shares behind role players like Stanley Johnson and Austin Reeves who played 1000s of minutes less than him. He literally played multiple seasons more than them but contributed less to wins. He’s a boat anchor sailing the ship. Did the front office fuck up acquiring him and not dealing him at the deadline? It’s obvious. Nuff said. Career loser. No more WB talk.

It’s just weird to me people are attempting to even have this debate outside of injuries. Clearly you can build an elite team around Bron and AD. They already won a title together. There’s no argument. Clearly they’re not in a position to win titles because they were hardly on the court together and were not healthy for much of the time they were. Clearly the front office, even if they did let LeBron dictate things, even though there is zero evidence of this, have fucked up. Letting players dictate your front office decisions is a fail. Full stop. And it is only a crack pot conspiracy theory since LeBron wanted moves made at the deadline for John Wall or really anyone else and his wishes were rebuked. Trading for a confirmed cancer like Westbrook is squarely on them when they had MVP candidate Derozan as an option. Not moving him at the deadline to make a legit run is a fail. It’s also clear that with health the Lakers would be in the 50+ wins category at the top of the west with home court advantage in the first round.

That’s why it’s really confusing why there’s all this discussion revolving around the players failures. No, at this point champions like AD and Bron are not proving anything. It’s obvious they’re elite. They got hurt. It’s tragic that people get hurt. Tracy McGrady is one of the best players of all time but sustained injuries that derailed his career. Same with Grant Hill. Same with Brandon Roy. If you look at those guys and think T-Mac was a terrible player who never made it out of the first round based on his play instead of randomly landing on someone’s foot, or you think the Lakers disappointing season is due to the players on the team instead of their injures, it’s your failure as a fan, not theirs as a player.

SC: Okay then, let’s finish things off with a bang… or a whimper. 

Durant. 56 games. Kyrie. 27 games. Morant. 57 games.  Curry.  64 games.  Paul George.  34 games. Brandon Ingram.  55 games.  Jimmy Butler.  57 games.  Klay Thompson. 32 games. Khris Middleton.  66 games. Bam Adebayo. 56 games.  Dillon Brooks.  32 games.  D’Angelo Russell. 65 games.  Deandre Ayton.  58 games.  Collin Sexton.  11 games.  Rudy Gobert. 66 games. Chris Paul.  65 games.  Draymond Green. 46 games.  

I think you see where I’m going with this.  All those players’ teams made the post-season with the players mentioned above missing, for one reason or another, significant amounts of playing time.  The difference between those rosters and L.A.’s, one can only surmise, is depth and talent.

When L.A.’s big guns went down, nobody was able to pick up the slack.  LeBron and Westbrook, and their inglorious inability to co-exist, served as nothing more than stat-stuffers.  They were unable to convert those numbers into the most important stat of them all: W’s.

So why is Pelinka getting a pass, or is how he gets them out of this mess going to dictate, one must assume, his relatively tenuous future?  Westbrook is borderline untradeable unless they can get some other franchise (Charlotte) to eat his contract.  Even so, the Lakers will have to add some sorely needed depth and players that want to play with LeBron at this point of his career, which might be tough to find.  Even then, fans will be holding their collective breath every time Anthony Davis hits the floor, holding his (insert random achy body part here).

Furthermore, you can’t have your primary, veteran ballhandlers combining for over seven turnovers a game.  That’s just bad basketball.  As you suggested, roll with an elderly, injury-prone crew and you run the risk of another shit season.  At this point, that appears to be the bed they’ve made.  So what now for L.A., stock up on rabbit’s feet and gauze pads?

PEST:

See I don’t understand why people think this is any kind of argument about these star players. Which is exactly what is being said when it’s stated that no matter who was on the floor it was a train wreck of a season. Vogel/Westbrook aside, it doesn’t make sense to rank someone based on their team’s performance without them.

These comparisons are not transitive across teams. It matters how the team is constructed. It matters who games are missed against. It matters who was also hurt on opposing teams. In the interest of time I’m (yes, uncharacteristically) only going to look into one or two of the examples you gave.

The Warriors were the most popular one I’ve heard. Klay/Steph/Dray missed a bunch of games and did really well so I don’t want to hear about the Laker’s injuries. But it’s silly because the Warriors had a 15-50 season when Steph/Klay were hurt and a 39-33 when Steph/Dray were there for most of the season. The guys around them, including Steve Kerr, had entire seasons and training camps gaming out how to win without their all-star starters. The Lakers have had a single training camp trying to learn to play together for the first time and then they found them in the midst of the dubs 15-50 season trying to figure it out as they went along.

Secondly the Warriors even making the playoffs (for the first time in two years) this year has nothing to do with Curry, Dray or Klay. At all. What happened is Andrew Wiggins, a fully capable 24 ppg scorer and Jordan Poole both had career years after two years of practice.

And it’s being proven in the playoffs. I don’t know if he reaches his potential but Jordan Poole is having a blatant prime superstar caliber series. 28/3/5 on 67% and 59% from 3 over his first 3 playoff games is exactly what that is. Yea, when you have a potential superstar coming off the bench and filling in for your hurt stars you’re going to win a lot of games.

The Nets is nearly self-explanatory and I’m confused why you even mentioned them. KD got hurt and they went 5-17. They were heading to the lottery the same as the Lakers. Except they were afforded an opportunity the Lakers did not have. A healthy KD and a fully rested Kyrie came back at the start of March giving them over a month to make their playoff push and win 12 games to enter the play in tournament on their own floor.

If AD and LeBron got to play together healthy for a month and a half we wouldn’t be having this discussion. They’d very likely have gone on a huge run, taking the easy injury wins the teams above them got in the process, and not even smelling the play-in tournament. They were a single game out of the play-in with LeBron playing hurt by himself.

That’s two teams but it’s the same story for the rest. Teams like the Bucks, Heat, Warriors, Grizzlies and Suns are all loaded up with young talent looking to prove themselves in the regular season. Stars get hurt and they have players ready to step up. But LAL wasn’t built to win regular season games. They were built to win in the playoffs.

A ton of vets like Melo/Dwight who can turn the clock back and play their balls off for a given game knowing there’s time for their bodies to recover with top heavy veteran stars who can simply outsmart and out talent opposition. They figure a team out and use their experience to overwhelm teams when they adjust. It’s exactly what we saw in 2019. Portland got a game and were pummeled for four straight giving up over 130 points twice. Houston won a game and were pummeled for four straight losing game 5 by 24 points. Denver managed a single win in the middle of their series and LeBron turned on the GOAT jets in game 5 for a 38/16/10 60% shooting triple double. Miami very obviously could not compete and they got the title.

Now I know it’s not 2020 but the point is that this formula, around these players, flat out works, and pretending it doesn’t because they got hurt and didn’t have a chance to shine makes no sense.

So it really does just come down to one more issue. And that’s Russell Westbrook. I am no fan. His leadership skills are below 0. But he was never supposed to be in a leadership position. He was supposed to be playing hero ball while the real stars sat on the bench at the end of the third and beginning of the fourth which he’s proven amply he can do for short stretches, but not a whole season. I think people are confused about just how terrible Westbrook has been. So, let’s look at that.

First, WB has had a ton of minutes. 2678 to be exact. 600 more than Bron. Almost double Brow. But let’s compare those to his win shares. LeBron had 7.5 despite playing hurt for many of those games. Anthony Davis had 4.5. Comparatively Curry only had 8 despite playing in 20 more wins. But Westbrook had only 1.7. Equating LeBron to WB as a ‘stat stuffer’ when LeBron was clearly winning games his play is categorically false. And this is where Westbrook’s awful play truly shines.

He’s 8th. Eighth. One behind #7 role player Stanley Johnson. 8th in win shares despite being healthy all season long. When you lead a team in minutes by 1000s but are 8th in win shares to role players yes you are the cancerous trash.

This is historically poor play far beyond any of the criticism I’ve seen of him this year. Stanley Johnson only played in 48 games, 30 less, but has more win shares. Austin Reaves played in 61 games and has more. And they are what exactly? Dwight Howard played 16 minutes off the bench in only 60 games. Melo played in 11 games less in a role but has even more than Westbrook’s contribution to wins. To boot, Westbrook is second on the team in usage percentage at 27%. More than double Reaves, Johnson and 13% more than Dwight. It’s more than AD’s but he was still complaining they wouldn’t let him be him.

So full circle back to the other teams making it without stars and you’ll see another trend. They lack cancerous players whose contribution when times are tough is sabotage. It’s quite evident where the blame truly lies. The same thing that sabotaged any kind of expectations with Kevin Durant, Paul George/Melo, James Harden, Bradley Beal or Russell Westrbrook’s entire career. His remarkable lack of maturity, team play but overall real leadership.

But is that Pelinka’s fault? Westbrook wasn’t supposed to be leading this ship and has always been a good energetic so long as he wasn’t the one making decisions. He was supposed to be the third front running option in a formula that wasn’t only proven to work in 2020 but repeatedly earned titles. For weaker match ups he’d overpower them with ego ball and when it came to winning Bron/AD do the winning and he plays up his energy.

The problem is that only works if people are healthy because every matchup advantage this team has was predicated on LeBron and Anthony Davis being the first and second focus of the D. If healthy there was no one in the league that I saw who could match up. Then they have single covered Dwight/WB/Melo. So what should Vogel have done?

We know that a benched Westbrook would have gone nuclear and destroyed the locker room. He still had use if AD/Bron returned and the Lakers frankly had no other players remotely capable of stepping up athletically. So he didn’t bench him… that would have destroyed the season. So he played the only cards he had in his hand. Do the best with what we have now and wait for the pieces to return so our season can finally start and their proven formula can be applied and prep for our playoff run. He really had no other choices. That never happened. Lakers missed the playoffs and they fired a championship coach for putting the team in their best position to win without losing the team.

SC: And THAT, my friends, is why Pest will not become Russell Westbrook’s agent any time soon.  Thanks, as always, for the time, good sir.  We will see what next season holds in Los Angeles.  With one more season under their belt, and the youth in the league having one more under theirs, any future title shots without a revamped roster, might be fleeting.

Oh, and Russell Westbrook says hello.

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