Position to Fail

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As Championship Window Closes, Lakers Put All Their Eggs in the Wrong Basket

“We sucked.”

Anthony Davis did not mince nay words when speaking about the Los Angeles Lakers Friday night loss to the young upstart Minnesota Timberwolves.

“No defense. Can’t score,” said a furious Davis to the media in his postgame presser. “That’s not just this third quarter, it’s every third quarter we’ve played this season. We come out slow, lackadaisical offensively and defensively. We got to get it together. Why? I can’t tell you. But we got to do a better job. We got to decide who we want to be. A championship team? That’s not us right now. We’re not winning a championship the way we’re playing. We got to be better, and we got to care more for our wins at home. Wins in general. That was embarrassing.”

Not a championship team right now? Hmm.

The Lakers would go on to bounce back on Sunday night against the San Antonio Spurs, but Davis’ comments have continued to radiate all throughout the weekend. A team that has been deemed championship favorites throughout the Summer following the Russell Westbrook acquisition has been anything but impressive to start the year.

Meanwhile, the team the Lakers have acquired Westbrook from is 9-3, leading the Eastern Conference and playing incredible basketball, especially on the defensive side of the ball.

The players sent back from Los Angeles are thriving.

Kyle Kuzma seems revived, Montrezl Harrell is once again looking like a Sixth Man of the Year candidate, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope provides the Wizards with a versatile two-way option. With Westbrook off the Wizards, the Wizards have looked far more loose and fluid on the floor than they have at any point last season. Surely, they are outperforming their early season projections by all accounts, but the Wizards are already showing that they have made the right move to not only shed Westbrook’s crippling contract, but to help the team stay competitive and add a number of legitimate pieces around franchise superstar Bradley Beal.

So the Wizards are in a good spot post-blockbuster trade, but where do the Lakers go from here?

Davis says the team is not championship caliber and through the team’s first 14 games he’s not wrong. The acquisition of Westbrook was all about maximizing on the final chapter of LeBron James’ career. The goal is, plain and simply, to win now and to worry about the future whenever James is ready to step away from the game.

That being said, Westbrook has done anything but push the needle.

Through his first 13 games with the Lakers, Westbrook is averaging 19.4 points, 8.5 assists, and 8.8 rebounds per game while shooting a poor 42.6 percent from the field and an abysmal 29.6 percent from long range. He is shooting 66% percent from the free throw line and leading the league in turnovers per game while posting a below average PER and a poor Win Shares. With a salary of $44 million for the year which equates to almost a third of the team’s net salary, Westbrook is heavily underperforming his contract and with that, bringing the team’s championship aspirations down with him.

This is the flipside of having three players taking up a significant part of a team’s salary.

There’s very little diversity to the Lakers roster profile as the season ultimately lives and dies on the shoulders of their three superstar players and getting 0.2 Win Shares from a $44 million player is not doing the aging Lakers any favors.

What is even scarier are Westbrook’s on/off splits.

The Lakers offensive and defensive ratings are a +10.4 and a +8.2 respectively with Westbrook on the bench. He is making himself virtually unplayable and with a 406th ranked VORP, he slots himself right behind the likes of Brad Wanamaker, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, and Gabe Vincent. I guarantee most of you don’t even recognize the latter two names.

The nine-time All-Star has cemented himself as a future Hall of Famer, but once you look past the flashy per game numbers, Westbrook is who he always has been. He is a high usage player who only knows how to play one way and as he continues to get older and the contract figures continue to grow more gaudy by the day, the Lakers will continue to see that they have placed their eggs in the wrong basket in hopes of maximizing on their quickly closing championship window.

More often than not, having a generational talent like James makes building a championship team far easier, but unfortunately for the Lakers, even the great LeBron James cannot fix everything.

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