For the second consecutive season, there is disappointment in Laker land. Through the first 51 games of the season, the Lakers are an ugly 24-27, and in the 9th seed play-in spot. While they may only be 3 games back of the 6th seed, they might as well be 13 games back. LeBron James and Anthony Davis have been unable to stay on the court, Russell Westbrook is struggling to buy in, and the defense has been atrocious. The Lakers need to get it together if they want a legitimate shot at banner number eighteen. Let’s go through a few ways they can do this.
We’ll start with the improvement that is easier said than done; increasing defensive effort and defense in general. The Lakers 2020 championship squad hung its hat on defense. The entire starting lineup was all above-average defenders, and almost everyone on the bench could get you a stop too. The rotations were crisp and offenses struggled against LA’s defense. This is not true for Frank Vogel’s team this year. The defense looks just flat-out bad. Rotations aren’t made past the first look, and the lack of individual defenders does not help either. It’s gotten so bad that the Lakers have consistently been putting 6’6 Small Forward Stanley Johnson at Center (LeBron has also done this) in hopes of being able to switch and stretch the floor on offense. The reason the defense is bad is because guys like Carmelo Anthony, Malik Monk, DeAndre Jordan, and Wayne Ellington simply don’t put the effort in. They just want to score, which they do, but we all know defense wins championships. You’re not going to win a 7 game series hoping you can drop 130 points 4 times. The defense needs to improve. It can improve via more effort, or be helped by the next possible improvement
Trades. We all know LeBron is notorious for influencing his team to make trades, and there are more than a few players on the market who help the Lakers needs on defense. Take Jerami Grant. The lengthy Pistons wing has taken on a bigger offensive role in Detroit, but we know he can defend based on his bubble performances as a member of the Nuggets. The problems? Grant does not want to play second fiddle on offense, he wants a long-term extension in the off-season that LA can’t give, and the Lakers do not have the trade assets to get him due to the team’s old age and lack of cap space. However, there are other options the Lakers could try to settle for. Eric Gordon is on a tanking Rockets team that would love more picks or young guys like Talen Horton-Tucker or Kendrick Nunn. Gordon could provide leadership, hustle, and great 3&D play. Terrance Ross is also on a tanking team. He could give the Lakers 15+ PPG, but he’s not exactly a great defender. So, pending a player not on the block now going on the block, it looks like Gordon or Ross may be the Lakers’ best bets. But there’s one more way the Lakers could improve that I at least want to see attempted
Bench Russell Westbrook. I know, it’s crazy on paper. Having a 44 million dollar player not even start is almost unheard of. But it may need to be done. For a starting lineup, the Lakers could go 2020-like. LeBron plays the 1, you get 2 lengthy wings like THT, Austin Reaves, Stanley Johnson, or even Avery Bradley and Malik Monk. Then get your “small ball” 4 like Ariza or Johnson if he isn’t at the 3, and then throw Anthony Davis at the 5. This allows LeBron to be on the floor with at least 3 other shooters. Meanwhile, off the Bench, Westbrook can come in and just dominate bench units with his strength and speed. What bench unit is stopping a Russell Westbrook-led group? None. This may be a bit of a wild one and would have to start as an experiment, but it must be tried. Westbrook has cost the Lakers one-too-many games to at least not try this.
There you have it. A couple ways the Lakers could turn around or at least try to turn around their season. Obviously I am no GM or coach, but these options are somewhat realistic all things considered. Hopefully the purple and gold can turn it around, and allow LeBron to make another push for ring number 5.