The Los Angeles Lakers were listed among the favorites to win the 2021-22 NBA title entering the season per DraftKings Sportsbook and were the pick for the oddsmakers to come out of the West. Fast forward to the final week of the season and LA is already out of playoff contention. Here’s how the Lakers got to this point and what the offseason holds for the NBA’s banner franchise.
2021-22 season recap
LA played at a .500 pace for most of the season as LeBron James and Anthony Davis battled injuries. The fit with Russell Westbrook was awkward, but many viewed that initial phase as the typical adjustment period when a star gets integrated into the fabric of the existing team. Davis suffered a major injury in February and returned to the floor too late to save the season, while James battled knee and ankle ailments which caused him to miss key games. As a result, the Lakers went from 24-24 at one point to 31-48 with three games left in the season. LA is currently on a seven-game losing streak and might shut down James and Davis for the rest of the season with the playoffs out of reach.
2022 offseason priorities
The Lakers have James, Davis, Westbrook, Talen-Horton Tucker, Austin Reaves, Stanley Johnson and Kendrick Nunn under contract for next season, assuming both Westbrook and Nunn opt in to their player options. LA isn’t trading James or Davis, but the franchise does need to recognize where both players are at after this season.
James is a 37-year old who has dealt with three different injuries at different times in 2021-22. While he’s still among the 10 best players in the league, he’s no longer capable of carrying a mediocre supporting cast to the playoffs. Davis is an injury-prone big man who has yet to play more than 75 games in a single season. While the tandem is great when healthy, the Lakers cannot expect both players to be fit for a full year.
Westbrook was supposed to mitigate some of that concern with his durability, especially during the regular season. However, the guard has failed to adjust his game to fit with James and Davis. He’s likely to be traded, although the Lakers are going to have to attach a first-round pick to get rid of him.
Frank Vogel is surely out as the coach, leaving the team looking for another option. Plenty of names have been floated around, but we’ll see how the search ultimately plays out. Both James and Davis will have to sign off on the new coach.
As far as the free agency and trade market is concerned, the Lakers don’t have much flexibility. Unless a Westbrook trade brings back several rotation pieces, LA is going to have a similar approach when filling out the team. Malik Monk will be gone as his three-point shooting will be coveted by many teams, and Carmelo Anthony might also depart for the same reason.
James is eligible for a contract extension in August. LA’s offseason moves will directly impact his decision on that front. For now, the summer priorities are a new head coach and a Westbrook trade to better equip James and Davis with the supporting cast they need.