The 2021-22 NBA regular season wraps up next week, with just a handful of games for each franchise to play before the play-in tournament…
It’s now a matter of when, not if, the LA Lakers will fire coach Frank Vogel.
Their season has been in a state of chaos from the jump and Thursday’s 111-104 loss to the lowly Indiana Pacers in Los Angeles will intensify the heat on Vogel’s hot seat.
The Lakers dropped below .500 to 22-23 and eighth in the Western Conference on the back of their defeat to Indiana, who are now 16-29 but were still able to be triumphant in La La Land despite missing injured centre Myles Turner.
Vogel was reportedly in the firing line before the Lakers upset Utah on the weekend but very rarely does a coach in the NBA re-establish themselves when those kinds of stories start leaking out, especially when it’s followed up by going down to a team with the fifth-worst record in the league.
A large portion of the blame for the Lakers’ lacklustre campaign should go to their roster construction.
After injuries at inopportune times to Davis and James ruined their playoff push last season, they had the chance to tinker with their squad.
They needed more outside shooting but they only had a few assets in the chamber after trading away several picks to the Pelicans to pry Davis away from New Orleans.
There was little wrong with that deal even though they gave up a lot – young prospects Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and Lonzo Ball, as well as multiple first-round picks and swaps.
The Lakers would do that deal 10 times out of 10 again – it led to their 2021 championship in the Florida bubble with Davis playing a key role in giving James a one-two punch that was way too much for Miami to handle in the Finals.
Last season they made a similar deal – sending Kyle Kuzma, Kentavius Caldwell-Pope and Montresz Harrell, plus a first-round pick, to Washington in exchange for Russell Westbook.
If they were given a mulligan on that one, 10 times out of 10 they wouldn’t pull the trigger.
Westbrook has not fitted in at all. He does not have the athleticism he once had, is a poor defender and needs to have the offence set around his strengths and weaknesses.
The Lakers needed an outside scorer to complement James and Davis. LeBron can do the bulk of the playmaking so a traditional point guard wasn’t required, not that Westbrook has ever fitted that archetype.
They could have done a deal with Sacramento to get three-point specialist Buddy Hield and they would not have had to give up nearly as much in that trade. The Lakers have missed Kuzma, KCP and Harrell’s production but the loss of Kuzma, in particular, a low draft pick who turned into more than a role player at the Lakers, has cut deeply.
He’s having a career year at the Wizards and although he won’t break into the All Stars stratosphere in the East, Washington have got a steal with the 26-year-old forward on a deal worth $39 million over three seasons.
Kuzma is going to command a massive pay rise when he becomes a free agent at the end of 2024.
Westbrook last season averaged 22.2 points, 11.5 rebounds and 11.7 assists per game while shooting at 43.9%, including 31.5% on threes. This season he has dropped to 18.6 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.9 assists, at shooting clips of 43.6% and 28.9%.
His shooting is so bad that #Westbrick often trends on social media when he plays and opposition in-arena DJs have started playing “Cold as Ice” whenever he misses a basket. Anything that brings Foreigner back into the zeitgeist can’t be a good thing.
Davis is due back from his knee injury soon but it could be too late by then for Vogel, who has never been truly embraced by the Lakers even though he guided them to their 17th trophy just two years ago.
He was signed in 2019 after enjoying playoff success during his stint at Indiana and then a forgettable couple of years at Orlando but after initially receiving a three-season deal, he was only given a one-year extension which ties him to the franchise until the end of 2023.
Vogel is too good a coach not to get another start, probably a plum role with a high-profile franchise. If not, he could always make a few extra dollars if Jerry Seinfeld needs a body double.
Whether he survives this latest round of speculation or the Lakers replace him mid-season, they will be lucky to make the playoffs the way they’re going, let alone challenge for the trophy.
LeBron is 37, no longer the NBA’s most dominant player or even in the top five anymore and, realistically, only has a few more seasons left in his awe-inspiring career.
Davis has shown he can’t be the torchbearer for the franchise and Westbrook still has another year left on his deal at a whopping $47 million.
Time is running out for the King to add a fifth ring to his collection and it’s going to be hard for the Lakers to revamp this roster to being a title contender again, irrespective of who’s coaching the team.
THIS LAMELO SEQUENCE ???? pic.twitter.com/k2fSXMAz0l
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 15, 2022
Keep your eye on …
Charlotte: LaMelo Ball has Hornets fans … buzzing. They’ve won seven of their past 10 games to be 25-20 and although they’re still seventh in the East, they’re only four games off first and a legit contender to make the playoffs for the first time since 2015-16.
Blood in the Garden: The new book out by Chris Herring on the Flagrant History of the 1990s Knicks sounds amazing. He’s been doing the interview rounds on NBA podcasts the past few days – the book opens with a story about Xavier McDaniel and a towel which will certainly grab the reader’s attention before detailing all the highs and lows of the rough and tumble Knicks through the ‘90s under Pat Riley and Jeff Van Gundy.
Saturday – Bulls at Bucks: 12pm AEDT
Milwaukee (28-19) have stumbled to fourth in the Eastern Conference but can claw back the gap on first-placed Chicago (28-15) who will be missing guards Zach LaVine and Lonzo Ball due to knee problems.
Sunday – Thunder at Cavaliers: 12pm AEDT
There’s only three games on this Sunday and the other two aren’t much chop – Kings at Bucks and Pacers at Suns. Young Australian guard Josh Giddey will come up against rookie of the year favourite Evan Mobley but he’d be well advised to steer clear of Cleveland’s defensive monster in the paint.