As the LeBron slander pours in on social media–LeBron, other than his teammate AD, is the only athlete in history to ever be criticized and ridiculed for being injured–in the closing days of what is by a mile the greatest statistical age 37 season in NBA history, the incompetent den of vipers that is the Laker front office continues to sink to new lows.
On Friday morning, ESPN’s Senior Basketball reporter Ramona Shelburne published a long article purporting to provide the inside scoop on this disastrous 2022 Lakers season. It included lots of quotes from insiders, many of them anonymous, and you get a general sense that many of them come from the Lakers top front office brass.
How do we know this? Because it seems like the main goal of those quoted in the article is to throw the players and coaches under the bus and make it as clear as possible where the blame lies for this Season From Hell.
Let’s get into the article and you’ll see what I mean:
The Lakers diagnosed the problem with their 2020-21 team, a squad that went 42-30 and lost in the first round of the playoffs: James and Davis’ inconsistent availability due to injuries. Their solution was Westbrook.
Westbrook was a bad basketball fit, but team insiders insist the personality fit, alongside the often passive-aggressive James and nonconfrontational coach Frank Vogel, was even worse.
These “team insiders” just threw Westbrook, LeBron and Vogel under the bus. This is very early in the article, and it sets the tone.
Not only was Westbrook a bad basketball fit, but these anonymous sources went the extra mile and took shots at his character–along with LeBron’s and Frank Vogel’s. They’re basically calling Vogel a pussy here.
The ill-fitting roster didn’t help either. Four of the nine players who ended the season in Vogel’s rotation (Stanley Johnson, Wenyen Gabriel, Avery Bradley and D.J. Augustin) weren’t even on the team in training camp. Two of the starters on opening night (Kent Bazemore and DeAndre Jordan) either fell out of the rotation or were waived.
And who’s fault is it that the roster was bad? The article doesn’t say.
Throughout the season, Vogel often told confidants he felt like he was “searching.” Regardless of the answers he found, or didn’t, he’s expected to be replaced after the season, sources said.
It might not be Vogel’s fault, team insiders said, but firing a coach is the easiest change for the franchise to make.
It “might not” have been Vogel’s fault? Then whose fault was it? Again, we’re not told. But the insiders just a few paragraphs earlier ripped Vogel as too “nonconfrontational.”
The front office, led by president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka and special adviser Kurt Rambis, is expected to remain in power, sources said.
This is why I have reached the conclusion that LeBron’s best move is to demand a trade.
Can you imagine how dysfunctional and incompetent an NBA franchise has to be to retain the GM that was responsible for this 2022 Lakers season?
When you have LeBron, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook, you overhaul the entire roster to put this squad together, and the end result is a team that will finish close to 20 games under .500, it is astonishing that the architects of this team could keep their jobs.
Pelinka should be fired. Kurt Rambis should be fired. This Lakers squad’s performance this year was completely unacceptable. They will be lucky to be able to move Russ off their books this offseason. It’s possible that trade has screwed this team up for years to come.
And these guys are going to be allowed to keep their jobs?
This is what I’m talking about when I refer to the “Made Men” of Laker Land like Pelinka and Rambis: these guys can do no wrong in Jeanie Buss’ eyes. As long as you’re BFF with Jeanie Buss, you are untouchable. You can blow up the roster of a team that in 2021 had a 2-1 playoff series lead on the eventual Western Conference Champions, rebuild it into the most disappointing team in NBA history, and still somehow keep your job.
The fact that Rob Pelinka and Kurt Rambis still have their jobs should tell you everything you need to know about the Lakers front office.
But there is no easy way to change the core group of James, Davis and Westbrook. The Lakers were reluctant to incentivize a trade for Westbrook by adding in their 2027 first-round pick at the trade deadline, especially when they have so few future draft assets to trade following the acquisition of Davis in 2019. Sources said they are similarly disinclined to tie up their salary cap in the future via a waive-and-stretch provision after finally completing the waive-and-stretch deal for Luol Deng this season ($5 million of the Lakers’ cap in 2021-22 was dead money from Deng’s deal).
And while it might be possible to trade Westbrook in the offseason, those deals are very limited because of his monstrous $47 million salary.
Like I said, the people who executed this trade should be fired. But they won’t be. Because they’re Made Guys in Laker Land.
WHILE WESTBROOK IS hardly the only reason for the Lakers’ mess this season, the team’s decision to trade for him is as good a place as any to diagnose what went wrong and why.
In choosing Westbrook, the Lakers also effectively chose not to trade for DeMar DeRozan or Buddy Hield, which speaks to their organizational values (star power over basketball fit) and decision-making processes.
Okay, now we’re getting somewhere it seems…
According to sources close to the situation, DeRozan met with James and Davis at James’ house in Brentwood multiple times, and there was initial interest in constructing a sign-and-trade with San Antonio that would have likely involved Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma and a draft pick. But because DeRozan was a free agent, the Lakers had to wait to act on that scenario. In the interim, talks with the Sacramento Kings for Hield and the Washington Wizards for Westbrook heated up before the NBA draft on July 29.
While timing factored into the choice of Westbrook or Hield (both available via trade before free agency) over DeRozan, sources close to the situation insist that James and Davis’ enthusiasm for Westbrook were what moved the process in that direction.
Never mind. “Sources close to the situation” are trying to pass the blame off on LeBron and AD.
Look at how they spin this one: the Lakers front office’s only sin is that they’re just too damn pro player!
The Lakers have always been an organization that gives significant voice and influence to its stars. For better or worse, it is part of the brand, and was a significant selling point for James when he entrusted his golden years to the franchise as a free agent in 2018.
Star power, in other words, has few limits. That is both empowering for basketball luminaries such as Johnson and James, and an ongoing organizational problem: Muddling roles and responsibilities — and confusing who is accountable when things go haywire.
This is exactly what someone in the front office would want: making it impossible to hold someone accountable for this disastrous season. “Well, we empowered LeBron too much and he made us trade for Westbrook and now our team is ruined!”
Even if this were true–even if LeBron had demanded the Lakers trade for Westbrook–they still could have told him no, just like they did with Ty Lue.
It’s pretty astonishing to read this article and see how childish the Laker front office is. They’re clearly trying to pass the blame off onto LeBron while also not really blaming him–“It’s our fault for giving him too much power with which to make terrible decisions!”
Nobody’s buying that garbage.
Here comes more Westbrook blaming:
THE PLAN COMING in was for Westbrook to assume a heavy playmaking role to help alleviate the burden on James, a reasonable position for a player who had been on the ball much of his career. But his decision-making frustrated the coaching staff and teammates almost immediately — Westbrook had 30 turnovers in his first five games.
“I think they lost faith in Russ as a ball handler after the first few weeks,” one team source said. “And he knew it because they took him off the ball and started asking him to stand in the corner or set screens.”
With Westbrook dislodged from his comfort zone on offense, the good intentions from the beginning of the season began to fade — fast.
He looked uncomfortable performing basic skills. Like he was forcing things … or rushing them … or hesitating. In November he missed four of the seven dunks he attempted. On Christmas Day he missed two more as the Lakers were trying to rally in the final minutes of a loss to the Brooklyn Nets. After that, he essentially stopped dunking altogether. In January, he dunked twice. In February, he was just 1-for-3.
People on the team and around the league began to wonder if something was wrong with his hands or eyes. It’s not often a player makes just 65% of his dunks in a season.
They are absolutely trashing Russell Westbrook here.
Here’s a question: if they’ll say all of this about Westbrook, what do you think other stars will think when they read this? Do you think all this dirty laundry being aired will make other stars want to come and play for the Lakers? You know if things go south, “inside sources” will rip you to shreds in the media.
Even though a lot of this stuff about Westbrook is true, you still don’t say it publicly about a player who is still under contract for your team. The people behind this article literally have no regard for Russell Westbrook at all.
They’re willing to publicly humiliate him in the media if it means absolving themselves of the blame for this atrocious season.
Westbrook didn’t make things any easier on himself either. “I think the problem with Russ has been Russ’s response to all of it,” a team source said. “He doesn’t leave a window for people to have empathy for him.”
Westbrook grew defiant and stubborn in the face of criticism. His nightly sessions with the local media were often combative and terse.
They just keep dumping on this poor guy.
There were those in the organization who felt only humiliation would spur Westbrook to change his style of play to fit better within the team structure. Vogel, for his part, believed they should stand by him and give him the space to figure it out, just as he had in other situations over the years, team sources said. While Vogel did eventually bench Westbrook at the end of games when he was not effective, he continued to start him, give him chances and praise him when he played well.
Who were these people in the organization, exactly?
Perhaps the same people publicly humiliating Westbrook in this article by talking anonymously to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne?
You can clearly tell that most of the quotes in this article come from front office people trying to save their own asses and pin as much of the blame for this season on other people–mainly Russell Westbrook–as possible.
This is the message being sent to potential free agents considering the Lakers: If it doesn’t work out, you will be thrown under the bus, publicly humiliated, and no one in power will ever be held accountable.
The Lakers are a dumpster fire of an organization. LeBron should GTFO ASAP, and AD should demand a trade. Westbrook, out of principle, should refuse to play another game there.
I don’t know what LeBron was thinking when he agreed to sign with the Lakers in 2018. He had to have been aware of how bad the franchise had been since Jerry Buss died in 2013. Maybe he thought he could overcome the dysfunction, or that it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary.
Or maybe he just wanted to move to LA.
But clearly, he cannot overcome this dysfunction. And if LeBron can’t, then no one can.
This is the first time in his career since his rookie season in 2004 that he’s been on a team with a losing record. Last year was the first time he’d ever lost in the first round.
Of course, injuries have had a lot to do with it. Last year, the Lakers started 22-7. After Solomon Hill wrecked LeBron’s ankle on March 20, LeBron would miss 26 of the remaining 30 games of the season. The Lakers, though, were 28-14 up to this point. They still managed to finish 42-30, make the play-in, beat the Warriors, and then make the playoffs. They had a 2-1 lead on the Suns and then AD went down, and the Lakers would lose three straight to be knocked out.
This season, the Lakers were just 25-31 when LeBron started. It really got worse after the All-Star break, which is right when AD was knocked out with injury: the Lakers were just 4-11 following the break even with LeBron in the starting lineup.
A lot of people are going to say the reason the Lakers are so bad now is because they have a terrible roster and LeBron, at this advanced age, simply can’t carry a team anymore.
But do not underestimate the incompetence of the Laker front office.
I do not think this is a simple matter of just LeBron being old and Russ being a bad fit. This is about the Lakers being the most poorly run franchise in the entire NBA.
I could understand the “LeBron just can’t carry a team anymore” narrative if he had a terrible season this year, but he didn’t. He put up 30-8-6 with a 59% eFG. That is an insanely good stat line–not just for a 37-year-old, but for anyone.
After the All-Star break, the Lakers won 4 games (excluding their win Friday night over the Thunder when LeBron, AD and Russ all were out). LeBron averaged 46ppg on better than 60% shooting in those wins.
If you really think LeBron was the problem, or that he wasn’t doing enough, or that he had fallen off, then you need to get your head examined.
He needs to get his ass out of LA immediately. The Lakers are a poverty franchise. The Lakers are NBA quicksand–they’re too dysfunctional for anyone to succeed there.
You know who they’re considering to replace Vogel? Doc Rivers. I’m not making this up:
This is how you know the Lakers front office is broken beyond repair. Incompetent beyond all hope.
LeBron should really go back to Miami. Wait until Miami is eliminated from the playoffs (which might be pretty early). Call up Pat Riley and tell him, “I want to come back,” and he will take care of the rest.
Header photo credit: Clutch Points