The Los Angeles Lakers’ season has been a mess, to put it bluntly.
This is a franchise that went all-in for another championship run after trading away key players for Russell Westbrook to form a new big three alongside Anthony Davis and LeBron James.
The team recruited several more veterans, leaving it with the oldest roster in the NBA by a considerable margin.
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Saturday January 15th
According to Real GM, the Lakers’ roster entered the season at an average age of 30.0 years, while the Brooklyn Nets and Utah Jazz came in equal-second at 28.1 years.
But near the halfway point of the season, it’s clear that the Lakers are far from the title favourites they were once projected to be — or should be based on the experience of their roster.
Frank Vogel’s team currently sits eighth in the Western Conference with a 19-19 record and isn’t long removed from a five-game losing streak.
Yes, they’ve been hit hard with injuries and Covid-related absences, but so has nearly every other team in the league.
The Lakers’ problems run deeper including chemistry issues, struggles at both ends of the floor (ranked 14th in the NBA in defensive rating, 24th in offensive rating and 20th in net rating) and a lack of identity.
As a result, the Lakers have been urged to shake up their roster and make a trade. Given Westbrook, Davis and James are all on max contracts, moving one is virtually the only way for the team to acquire another star-calibre player.
Trading Westbrook — an idea the franchise has even reportedly internally discussed — and his massive $44 million annual salary would be nearly impossible amid his inconsistent play.
And James isn’t going anywhere.
Therefore, Fox Sports US’ Colin Cowherd has proposed the Lakers consider parting with Davis in a bold move to open up genuine roster flexibility.
“I think the Lakers have to strongly consider redoing all of it if they want to get back to a championship window. All of it starts with Davis, because we’re not moving LeBron and stop blaming Westbrook.
“Westbrook hasn’t been disappointing for the Lakers, he’s giving you everything he’s always given you.”
It comes amid an indifferent season from Davis where durability remains a big concern after he suffered a left knee MCL sprain.
Davis has never played more than 75 games in a season and has missed at least 10 games eight times in his 10 NBA campaigns including this year.
It also puts a bigger workload on the 37-year old James, who ranks second in the league in scoring and minutes per game — hardly ideal at this stage of his career when he’d preferably dial it back.
It comes after the Lakers surrendered a bounty to secure Davis from New Orleans in July 2019 — seven players (including Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram), three draft picks (including two first-rounders), swap rights for a third selection in the first round), and $1 million.
While he immediately helped the Lakers win a championship before re-signing on a $190 million extension (A$262 million), Davis’ play, particularly his shooting, has since been on the decline.
Davis’ three-point percentage has dropped dramatically from 33 per cent from 2018/2020 to 21.95 per cent since including 17.9 per cent this season on 2.1 attempts — the latter the worst he’s shot the three-ball since bringing it into his game in 2015/2016.
His free-throw shooting has also fallen away, going at 72.7 per cent on six attempts this season — the lowest return for his entire career.
While he still protects the rim as well as any player in the league (averaging 2.0 blocks per game), it’s not quite to the level he did at New Orleans.
And now, Cowherd wondered if Davis could live up to being the next franchise cornerstone for the Lakers post-James as he was intended to be when they recruited him.
“Two years ago LeBron wanted to pass the minutes baton to Davis. He came in out of shape and now this year he’s hurt,” Cowherd added.
“And he’s increasingly more hurt than he’s ever been. Davis has missed 55 of 200 games for the Lakers and is still out for a couple off weeks.”
Elsewhere, the Ringer’s Bill Simmons also questioned Davis’ career trajectory and if his body type was where it should be for the way he wants to play.
“(The Lakers) went all out on Davis a couple of years ago because they thought they would be an eventual torch-pass and what’s weird is Davis’ career has gone in the wrong direction,” The Ringers’ Bill Simmons said on SiriusXM NBA radio.
“If your free-throw attempts are going down, your rebounds are going down, your field-goal percentage is going down, your points are going down and you’re in your late 20s, that doesn’t make sense. You should be peaking in your late 20s.
“You look at (Kevin) Garnett, the consistency (Tim) Duncan and Dirk (Nowitzki) had, they never were going down. With AD, eye test plus the stats really makes me nervous.
“I just think he has too much weight, I think he should have a Garnett, Duncan kind of a body. It seems like he’s trying to be a centre and I don’t know if he can carry the weight.”
“He doesn’t want to play his position, he doesn’t put time in the weight room, he doesn’t have leadership DNA.”
Furthermore, Davis’ inability — and reluctance — to play at centre remains a problem for Vogel’s side, a position James himself has filled recently to lead the Lakers to three wins out of their last four games.
Fox Sports US’ Chris Broussard believes James playing the five has — potentially unwillingly — sent a message to Davis.
“If the Lakers need you to play centre on a regular basis and start at centre, then do it. You just saw a 37-year old in his 19th year play centre. You can’t do it!?
“I don’t know that LeBron meant to do it, but I think it was a message that AD should learn from.”
Despite this, Vogel recently claimed he’ll continue to play James at centre even when Davis returns given the Lakers’ success over the last month with centre-less line-ups.
“Frank Vogel just indicated that, with LA’s success over the past month with centre-less line-ups, the Lakers will likely use Anthony Davis and LeBron James as their two primary centres once AD returns,” The Athletic’s Jovan Buha reported.
So If the Lakers did decide to entertain trading Davis, who could they target?
It’d have to be a win-now move and one that’s highly profitable, given Davis, despite his flaws, is an eight-time All-Star, four-time All-NBA First Team representative and four-time All-NBA Team representative and probably one of the top 10 players in the NBA, if not close to it.
Someone like Damian Lillard, James Harden or Bradley Beal would clearly be ideal, but how much they could actually help the Lakers alongside James and Westbrook is a big question mark.
It’d also be important the Lakers secure a high-calibre centre back in any move while adding more outside shooting — or there’s really no point in dealing the star big man.
A trade with Boston centred around either Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown and Robert Williams could make sense in that regard, although it isn’t known if the Celtics would ever consider dealing the former — particularly to their arch rivals — despite the team’s struggles.
Nikola Vucevic could be another target, although realistically, how much more would the Bulls be willing to give up after their rise to the upper Echelon of the Eastern Conference.
Sacramento is a side that’s expected to shake things up ahead of the trade deadline and has several interesting pieces like Buddy Hield, Harrison Barnes and Richaun Holmes, but lacks a talent even close to Davis’ level.
Indiana is another franchise looking to make changes to move towards a rebuild amid reports that either Domantas Sabonis or Myles Turner and Caris LeVert are on the market. Sabonis and Turner could make sense for the Lakers, although the former would be a significant downgrade on Davis defensively.
Detroit’s Jerami Grant is reportedly a target for the Lakers and could also come into play, although clearly not in a straight swap but as part of a bigger deal involving more teams.
Or maybe a deal with Portland involving CJ McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic and Rovert Covington could appease the Lakers.
Whatever LA does from here, the team can no longer blame its struggles on chemistry issues of a newly-formed team after 13 roster additions last off-season.
This is a team built to win now that didn’t overhaul its roster to simply make up the numbers in the West and be in the play-in mix. And as much as James has defied father time, the clock is ticking on his career.
So how bold will LA be to save its troubled season?