The Lakers deserve this.
After constructing the perfect team, one which became a family enduring the pain of Kobe Bryant’s death, covid and social justice movements, all while on their way to winning a championship, the Lakers have done everything in their power to erase it.
It’s a shame that for the past 15 months this franchise has spent seamlessly all of their time devoted to deconstructing their rebuilt credibility and falling back into their dark ages of the late 2010’s.
Remember in April 2019 when Magic Johnson abruptly quit as the Lakers president, sending the organization spinning into weeks of confusion and embarrassment? Rob Pelinka was ridiculed, Kurt and Linda Rambis were ripped, and the coaching seat was soon swept clean.
It’s all happening again.
After a humiliating 111-104 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday night at Crypto.com Arena, the Lakers confirmed their identity as a mediocre team with major problems caused by serious mismanagement, and there is no easy solution in sight.
“I don’t feel like I’m under siege,” Vogel said. “It’s not hard to do my job. I’m very focused on the task at hand. I’ve always been that way. It’s really not up to me whether it’s fair or not. It comes with the territory, comes with being the Lakers coach.
“We have high expectations. This fanbase really cares, it’s a big market and I wouldn’t want it any other way, to be honest with you. I want people to care. I want people to want the best and to command excellence of our group. That’s what we command of ourselves. That’s just the way it is.”
He’s under siege. The ugliness starts with his situation. The Lakers are preparing to make him the scapegoat for their personnel mistakes. It’s just a matter of time. He could be fired this week, or next week, or sometime next month, or this spring, but he will almost surely be fired for being unable to connect the dots of a mismatched roster into the shape of a championship.
It’s not even remotely his fault, but what are Pelinka and Rambis going to do, fire themselves? To save their jobs, they will willingly sacrifice the 2020 championship coach as if he has suddenly forgotten how to coach. They will betray one of the league’s defensive geniuses even though this team desperately needs to improve on defense. They will release a good guy to protect their bad ideas.
And those bad ideas, they are like a long formed essay which nobody has any interest in reading. But if you have been watching the Lakers this season and even last, you can see the bad ideas in plain sight on the court.
But look no further than the 4th quarter collapse to a bad Pacers team that will most certainly be tore down at the trade deadline.
The Pacers outscored the Lakers by 11 points against a lineup that didn’t defend, didn’t attack, didn’t think and couldn’t mesh.
As if the loss wasn’t bad enough the optics get worse.
With his back against the wall and his job potentially on the line while being evaluated on a game-to-game basis, Lakers head coach Frank Vogel benched Los Angeles’ prized offseason addition. It was an admission of both Westbrook’s poor play on Wednesday and Vogel’s confidence, or lack thereof, in his starting point guard.
Vogel has toed the company line with Westbrook all season, publicly praising him even when his performance didn’t warrant such praise. But he dropped that facade on Wednesday, if only momentarily. When asked postgame about his reasoning for not playing Westbrook down the stretch, Vogel didn’t mince his words.
“Playing the guys that I thought were going to win the game,” Vogel said.
This will not endear Vogel to a front office just waiting to cut him loose.
Now Rambis, who quietly has great influence over the basketball operation with wife Linda, is even further embarrassing Vogel by sitting in daily coach’s meetings.
It’s unhealthy, it’s unprofessional, and it all points to Rambis working his way back to a spot on the bench with the coaching staff, a place where he’s never fit.
“Everyone is working together to leave no stone unturned in terms of getting this thing going in the right direction,” said Vogel.
That’s the problem. Since they won a championship in 2020, they have turned over so many stones that the once hallowed ground beneath the Lakers’ sneakers is unrecognizable.
Think about this: Only three players on the current Lakers roster have continuously remained with the team since the 2020 title run — LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Talen Horton-Tucker. A team once beloved had been reshaped to the point it is no longer a familiar sight.
Now think about this: Last season the Lakers were 28-13 before injuries ultimately doomed their hope of repeating, yet they currently have only those same three players from that team.
The overturn, unwarranted at that, has been frustratingly spectacular.
The list of players Pelinka sent packing in the two years since the championship makes a Lakers fan wince: Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Alex Caruso, Danny Green, Montrezl Harrell, Markieff Morris and Wesley Matthews.
Yet this is Frank Vogel’s fault? I am not buying it and neither should anyone else.
Even with Davis probably coming back next week from another lengthy injury timeout, they’re just too poorly constructed to survive more than a week or two in the postseason.
With the exception of the forever-young James, they have no consistent championship threat, and that includes Davis, who can’t stay healthy enough to be the necessary cornerstone.
They don’t have the goods to make a trade. They don’t have the big expiring contracts to make a big offseason move. The clown show could continue through the spring of 2023.
In a voice of reason, something the Lakers have lacked since a retired Kobe, Carmelo Anthony spoke about the situation Westbrook and the team find themselves in.
“I don’t think it’s anything personal,” Anthony said. “… We gotta help him figure it out. It’s frustrating. I can tell you that. It’s frustrating as a player who’s trying to make it right, trying to do things right. This is new for him. This is a new situation. This is a new environment. We gotta help him through it.”
Anthony denied knowing about the reports surrounding Vogel’s job, saying he doesn’t read “hoopla,” while also placing accountability on the players to get the Lakers out of their season-long rut.
“I think the easiest thing to do is to blame Frank, is to blame the coaches,” Anthony said. “But we’re out there. We’re out there playing. We’re the ones that gotta go out there and do it.”
I can’t even blame the players at this point, because they are who they are. Westbrook wasn’t going to wake up in Los Angeles and become an efficient shooter and playmaker. Anthony Davis wasn’t going to become durable. Melo, who is having his best season since leaving New York, wasn’t going to become an all world defender at his advanced age. The supporting cast of unknowns were not all going to be home runs.
The front office failed this team, this coaching staff and its fanbase. But by deflecting blame upon those truly in the trenches, there will be no light at the end of the tunnel.