The Fall of the Los Angeles Lakers?

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Issue 5, Volume 112

By Yashna Patel, Ava Quarles 

The 2020 Los Angeles Lakers were one of the most revered NBA squads ever. The season was surely one to remember, especially with the playoffs taking place in the NBA Bubble. The Lakers earned their 17th championship title when they won the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat. The trophy made history, tying the team with the Boston Celtics for the most amount of titles won by a single franchise. While the moment was definitely gratifying, the team’s dominance that season has disappeared. Now, a few weeks into the 2021-2022 NBA season, teams like the Utah Jazz, Golden State Warriors, and Philadelphia 76ers have risen to the top, while others are missing the mark. It is no question that the Lakers are among those falling short.

The Lakers still have an All-Star caliber team: LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, and Carmelo Anthony, to name a few. With their lineup, they have no excuse not to be in the top three in the NBA. However, the Lakers struggled tremendously in the preseason. After losing to the Sacramento Kings 116-112, they ended their preseason with a winless 0-6 record. Once the deadliest team in the NBA, the Lakers struggled to rack up wins against some of the least competitive teams in their division. Their standing among other superteams, and among all teams, is becoming a concern.

In the past, the Lakers have risen to the top through the skills, leadership, and drive of James, who is widely regarded as one of the best players of all time. Now at the age of 36, he continues to be a key player but has shown signs of decline. “I don’t think I’ll ever get back to 100 percent in my career,” James said after returning from an ankle sprain. At this point in his career, the team can no longer depend solely on his performance to succeed. The Lakers need to be confident in their abilities as a team, rather than relying on individual skill.

On top of that factor, the Lakers are altogether an older team. The average age on the squad is 30, making them the oldest team in the league. The team has recently added Anthony, Dwight Howard, Rajon Rondo, and Trevor Ariza, who are all 35 or older. Typically, veterans help a team succeed, but that pattern hasn’t come to fruition for the Lakers this year. They have a current record of 5-5, fifth in the Western Conference.

It just seems that each player in the Lakers lineup performs better independently than in a unit. Westbrook, also traded this postseason from the Washington Wizards, averaged a triple-double in four of the last five seasons. However, in his Lakers debut, he managed to score a mere eight points and turned over the ball six times in just the first quarter. Westbrook’s effectiveness in this superteam setting is questionable. Yet, he’s been improving and slowly regaining his efficiency.

Defensively, the team is struggling to contain its opponents’ drives. Players can defend the first action of a play but are unable to guard swings, pick and rolls, and other moves. The Lakers defense is currently ranked 12 out of the 30 teams, allowing an average 106.3 points a game. To regain their prior top defensive rating, the team needs to stay consistent throughout the game. Their absence of results has essentially come down to two things: a lack of defensive commitment and getting entirely too comfortable with a lead.

The team needs time to adjust to the changes it has experienced in the past year. “We still have a strong belief of who we can be and the moves we can make. I think it’s going in the right direction,” head coach Frank Vogel said. The struggles of the Lakers are prominent. The season has just begun, and there’s time for improvement, but it needs to start now. The team’s plentiful experience should be an asset, not something that slows them down. With better chemistry, this team could be the one to beat. The Lakers are arguably the most successful NBA franchise ever, and if they can account for their faults and take action, a return to their glory days isn’t out of question.