The Los Angeles Lakers will forever be known as a first-class organization. Legends have passed through Staples Center (known now as Crypto.com Arena) and helped the Purple & Gold win championships.

It wasn’t that long ago when LeBron James and Co. lifted the Larry O’Brien Trophy after the coronavirus pandemic forced teams to play in the Orlando bubble. A 52-19 regular-season record will forever be one of the best in NBA history and only suffered three losses on their way to the NBA Finals. Despite facing a tough and gritty Miami Heat squad, the good guys won the series in six games.

So, why are the Los Angeles Lakers stuck in a mess that they may not get out of?

It All Started When…

Dennis Schröder (#17) with LeBron James

After their championship season, the Purple & Gold were favored to repeat as champions headed into the 2020-2021 season. With the additions of guys like Dennis Schröder and Andre Drummond, it seemed as if this roster got even more dangerous. We can’t forget about Montrezl Harrell, who won the Sixth Man of the Year award in 2019.

The first 20 games for Los Angeles did well, finishing with a 14-6 record during that span. In fact, after a January 28th loss to the Detroit Pistons, the Lakers went on a seven-game winning streak. Unfortunately, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows for this team.

Injuries to LeBron James and Anthony Davis decimated the squad to a fault. This is significant, as both players were fairly healthy during their championship run the year before. A 1-7 record during the last week of April made things look bleak for Los Angeles.

But, there’s a reason why depth means so much in sports. Even with Anthony Davis being healthy, key performances from Kyle Kuzma and Talen-Horton Tucker helped the Lakers get back on track in May. A three-game winning streak helped the Lakers get to 40 wins. LeBron James made his return just in time, leading the Lakers to wins against the Pacers and Pelicans to solidify their spot in the play-in tournament.

A Repeat On The Way?

Standing in the way of making the playoffs were the Golden State Warriors. Keep in mind the Lakers needed to win against them if they wanted to officially get into the postseason. Led by Stephen Curry, the Warriors put up a fight all the way to the end. But, when LeBron James is on your team, you have a shot to win no matter how many hoops you see.

The 103-100 win propelled the Lakers to the first round, where the second seed Phoenix Suns awaited them. Game One went to Phoenix, but the Lakers proceeded to win the next two games and go up 2-1 in the series.

For teams that play on the West Coast, playing at 12 PM is the worst. You have to get up and get to the arena early, which is never comforting. But, this is not an excuse for LA, who proceeded to lose Game Four. The loss wasn’t the worst thing that happened though.

Davis missed Game Five but tried to play hurt in a must-win Game Six. It wasn’t worth the effort, as he only played five minutes and the Lakers were eliminated from the playoffs.

Big City, Big Headlines

Heading into the offseason, the Lakers knew things needed to change. They needed someone who can take the load off LeBron and Davis and lead the team to wins. Who else better to serve that role than someone who grew up in the same city.

People had mixed reviews from this trade, and can we blame them? Despite a resume including an MVP award and the triple-double record holder, Russell Westbrook’s playstyle didn’t seem like the right fit that would work with the team’s two stars. But, this needed to work. It had to work.

GM Rob Pelinka (and LeGM to a fault) chose a different direction to get back to the promised land. Instead of going younger, the Lakers’ front office signed veterans like Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard to bolster the team. Wayne Ellington and Kent Bazemore were signed to provide depth and shooting. The common theme here? Veterans, veterans, and more veterans.

If anything, the team did sign a young player in Malik Monk and still had Talen Horton-Tucker on the roster. But, this team’s plan made sense. LeBron James leads his teams to the playoffs no matter what. Once the team made it into the postseason, their veterans and their experience would help them lift the team’s 18th championship.

Things Don’t Always Go To Plan

Game One of the regular season signified this team’s “Big Three” wasn’t going to work. Facing the Golden State Warriors on opening night…

There were 81 games left in the season to figure things out. But once again, the injury bug marked his territory on the team. Davis missed 42 games, while LeBron was out for 26 of them. If there’s one thing we can praise Westbrook for, it was his availability.

Unfortunately, the Lakers’ plan to get back to the postseason failed. Westbrook, LeBron, and Anthony Davis only played 21 games together, and their chemistry never clicked. The team was 11-10 when all three were on the court. 41 starting lineups. Consistency? Never heard of it.

Davis was inactive from Game 59 on, and even LeBron James could not save this team from the depths of despair. Despite James’ outstanding shooting performances late in the season, the Lakers went on an eight-game losing streak from late April to early May that signified the end for the Purple & Gold.

LeBron was out for the last five games. Westbrook for the last three. The team won their last two games against Oklahoma City and Denver but finished with a 33-49 record to end the season.

Cleaning House

Former Head Coach Frank Vogel, who was fired shortly after the 2021-2022 season ended.

After a horrendous season, things changed for the Lakers again. Head coach Frank Vogel was fired, an unfortunate end for someone who coached a championship roster two years ago. Russell Westbrook was rumored to be moved in order to clear cap space

Things are slowly getting fixed. The Lakers have gotten younger, signing players like Lonnie Walker IV,Juan Toscano-Anderson, and others. Scottie Pippen Jr. and Cole Swider were signed to two-way contracts. Even Thomas Bryant is back to make his second stint with the team.

All of those guys are under the age of 30. For once, the Lakers did something right. Even though the summer league is currently in progress, the team is continuing to make headlines as they are looking to acquire Kyrie Irving from the Brooklyn Nets.

Both Irving and the Lakers have a mutual interest in acquiring him. But, what the Lakers can trade back to Brooklyn remains a question mark. We’ll get back to that.

An Overview

General Manager Of The Los Angeles Lakers: Rob Pelinka

So, maybe you were thrown off by the title of this article. It seems like the Los Angeles Lakers are working their way back to being a championship contender. But, in reality, they are not even close.

Let’s go back to the past for a second. For Westbrook, you gave away a pretty good package to the Wizards. Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope blossomed with the Wizards. Montrezl Harrell joined them and played well too.

For Anthony Davis, the team gave away Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Josh Hart. All three guys seem to be succeeding well with their new teams, including Ingram leading the Pelicans into the playoffs this past season. Let’s not forget the multiple first-round picks the Pelicans acquired from the Los Angeles Lakers.

We’re not going to sit here and say the Lakers completely lost the Davis trade. After all, it helped the team win the championship a couple of years ago. But, the team forgot how important those picks can be, and it has left them void of any first-rounders until 2026.

Also, the Lakers can’t trade any first-round picks until 2027. This is because…I’ll let Jacob Rude explain.

“The Lakers outright own their 2026 pick, but they can not trade it yet because they will not know if they own their 2025 pick until the Pelicans make their decision in 2024, due to the aforementioned Stepien Rule which prevents the trading of first-round picks in back-to-back drafts. It’s confusing, I know. Eventually, this could be the next pick the Lakers could trade, but they won’t know if they can do so for at least a couple more years”

The trade for Anthony Davis has continued to impact the Lakers to this point, and it has stalled the trade for Kyrie Irving even further. Bringing in Russell Westbrook was an even bigger mistake. He needs the ball in his hands, and the Lakers faced the consequences for not letting him be himself.

You can blame the head coach for not trying to make things work. But, let’s point the finger at LeBron James. He reportedly wanted Westbrook on the team. If anything, I believe LeBron wanted to prove to the NBA universe that he could be the one that could win a championship with Russ.

Kevin Durant couldn’t win it with Russ in OKC. Ditto for Paul George when he arrived in Oklahoma City. Same for James Harden in Houston. The Westbrook and Bradley Beal partnership in Washington also failed. LeBron could be next.

So, Where Do Things Stand Now For The Los Angeles Lakers?

As mentioned, the Lakers and Nets are working towards a trade that would lead to Kyrie Irving becoming a Laker. Brooklyn reportedly wants a first-round pick from Los Angeles, but it’s a matter of if Rob Pelinka will pull the trigger.

If the Nets also move Kevin Durant (since he requested a trade from the organization), things may finally work out for Westbrook. He would finally have his own team. Before you think about mentioning Ben Simmons, don’t. There’s no way that the Nets will ever be his team.

Back to the Los Angeles Lakers. Former Milwaukee Bucks’ assistant Darvin Ham is the new head coach for the Purple & Gold. The team finally have a burst of young talent with the free agents they brought in.

There’s only one concern I have. If Kyrie becomes a Laker, is he really the missing piece? You can bring up how well he plays when he’s on the court. But, his off the court concerns and motivation to play is a big question mark. It’s to the point where I would rather deal with Westbrook for another year to see if Ham can make this work with LeBron and A.D. We know that Russ will give it his all every night, whereas Irving’s availability will be a question mark.

These past few years have been a roller coaster for the Los Angeles Lakers. As of right now though, there is a mess in the Lakers organization. A major clean-up is hopefully on the way.

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Nathan Nguyen

As a student at San Jose State University, I strive to give my thoughts on the Los Angeles Lakers after every game and keep you updated on the New York Giants.

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