Surprise, surprise!!! The Los Angeles Lakers, just a year removed from being proud NBA champs in 2020, and the top pre-season favorite to win the crown once again this season, are officially out of the 2022 NBA playoffs. It is perhaps one of the biggest letdowns ever for the most illustrious team in the NBA. Tied with the Boston Celtics as the winningest team ever with 17 titles each, the proud Lakers must now take an ignominious early vacation; away from the klieg lights of the playoffs which used to be the arena for the Lakers’ Showtime!
Fans all over the world had placed high expectations on this team. With no less than this era’s GOAT in Lebron James, a trusty co-star in Anthony Davis, plus the addition of another former league MVP in Russell Westbrook – not to mention the entry of former All-Stars Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, Rajon Rondo and DeAndre Jordan – the Lakers were installed as the odds-on faves to hit the jackpot once again this year. This line-up’s offensive firepower was simply locked and loaded to the very brim. And with a defense-oriented coach in Frank Vogel, whose mettle had been tried and tested in the Bubble Wars in 2020, the only thing left to ask was: what could possibly go wrong?
But things were just not meant to be. Something just felt so wrong. And it showed in the team’s performance right at the get-go. Now as the regular season is about to close, the Lakers have embarrassed big-time by missing the last bus for the playoffs. With that, we look back and ask: “what happened?”
A series of whammies derailed the Lakers’ hopes for another championship this year. There is no single reason to pinpoint, for it was a bunch of events or non-events that conspired to stymie the Lakers’ season run.
First, there was the lack of team chemistry. While it was Lebron and AD who chose to recruit former MVP and triple-double specialist Russell Westbrook to be the third wheel in the team, Russell’s entry did not seem to blend well, particularly with him and coach Vogel not seeing eye-to-eye in the offensive patterns. Also, since Lebron had started to play part-time point guard, certain adjustments had to be made to accommodate Russ’ style of play; while at the same time, readjusting to having Lebron man the power forward slot, and which in turn would bump AD to the center slot once again. Recall that AD had verbalized his preference to take the PF position, while Lebron had also started learning the PG position in the prior years. Perhaps it was the lack of time to play together – which we shall tackle next. Coach Vogel scrambled to try more than 30 different starting line-ups. But the bottomline remains: the Chemistry seemed to be absent for the most part of the season.
Next, the team was hounded no end by Injuries. AD would be out substantially from a combination of knee to ankle injuries. He has played in only 40 of the 82 regular games this year. Lebron would also be hit by a similar set of injuries. He has played in only 56 games so far. The trio of Lebron, AD and Russell have played together only 21 times this year (11 wins, 10 losses), and this has contributed much to the lack of chemistry for the team. This is not to mention the fact that the other players in the roster such as Avery Bradley, Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony, Malik Monk, Wayne Ellington, Trevor Ariza, Kent Bazemore and Kendrick Nunn have themselves also been in and out of sick bay.
Finally, there is the Age of the players, which has a direct correlation with the injury factor. The Los Angeles Lakers’ move to bring in experienced and talented, yet aging players actually wreaked havoc on the team. It led to injuries, to a load management concern and to problems in the time players played in the court. The Lakers are the oldest team in the league this year, with an average age of 30. And we know the older one gets, the easier it is for one to get injured. The Lakers have 3 of the NBA’s 5 oldest, and 6 of the 12 oldest in the league. There’s Carmelo Anthony (37), Lebron James (36), Trevor Ariza (36), Dwight Howard (35), Rajon Rondo (35) and Wayne Ellington (34). This age factor would play a key role, as it also slowed down the team significantly, both in offense and defense.
These are the 3 main factors which connived to bring down the Lakers this year: Chemistry, Injuries and Age, or CIA. A lot of fans were convinced at the start of the season that the Lakers were a cinch for the crown, with all the accolades, the experience and the talent each one of these players would bring to the table. They did not reckon that the CIA could strike them out.
The Lakers’ front office took a big gamble, trading for Westbrook while eventually losing Kentavious Caldwell Pope, Kyle Kuzma, and Montrezl Harrell, 3 solid contributors in last year’s team. For the chance to get a 3rd star, they sacrificed depth and solid defense contribution. Sadly, the trade hasn’t really produced the positive results it had promised.
They also put a premium on experienced, ex-all stars. The Lakers did this before in 2002, when they brought in Karl Malone and Gary Payton to team up with Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. They reached the Finals, but it just didn’t work against a brash, young Detroit Pistons then. They tried it again in 2012, bringing in Steve Nash and Dwight Howard to bolster a Kobe-Pau Gasol-led line-up. They were no match to a youthful Kevin Durant/Russell Westbrook-led Oklahoma Thunder in the Western conference playoffs. Once again, after another 10 years, they tried to bring in a bunch of ex-all stars this year. This time, it is the entire league full of young, speedy and super-talented players that has rebuffed the Lakers’ talented but aging super-roster, stopping them cold before they could even reach the playoffs.
Today, the NBA is evolving fast. New talents join the fray each year. New styles, new creative moves, new offensive and defensive patterns are introduced each year. Age is definitely a big factor now. And along with chemistry and injuries, these will determine which teams will eventually move up or falter in the race for the crown.
For a closer look, just click on the pics. Cover photo courtesy of Lakers Daily. Other pics courtesy of Silver Screen And Roll, NetsDaily, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Lakers Daily, SFGate, Detroit Free Press, YouTube and Lakers Nation.