Lockdown defense counts for nothing if Lakers don’t make a move

During the NBA offseason, the Los Angeles Lakers were mentioned in trade rumors almost daily. The team seemed determined to part ways with veteran guard Russell Westbrook but couldn’t get around teams wanting Los Angeles to add first-round draft picks.

General manager Rob Pelinka and the Lakers front office were reluctant to give up future first-round picks to make a deal. The most notable or talked about potential trade was Buddy Hield and Myles Turner coming to Los Angeles in a trade with the Indiana Pacers.

Obviously, the trade never came to fruition, and Lakers fans continue to scratch their heads, wondering why those first-round picks are so precious when the championship window for the duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis is closing fast.

Fast forward to three games into the 2022-23 season, the Lakers still have Westbrook on their roster, and it’s as if last year never ended in terms of his performance on the court. The former NBA MVP continues to struggle to fit in and is coming off a loss that he was instrumental in causing.

The blame for the recent loss to the Portland Trail Blazers can’t completely go on Westbrook. Everyone on the court at the end of the game can share part of the blame. LeBron James had some cringeworthy attempts, while Anthony Davis got in foul trouble, limiting what he could do defensively.

Despite the mistakes made late in the game and Damian Lillard becoming virtually unstoppable down the stretch, which seems to happen every time he plays the Lakers, Westbrook was the fall guy once again. His missed 16-foot jumper with 27 seconds left and the Lakers up one was all anyone could talk about after the game.

Head coach Darvin Ham was asked about the shot selection by Westbrook at the end of the game and didn’t seem too pleased with the 16-footer he took.

I just wish he would attack the rim,” Ham said. “Pat [Beverley] tried to set a little screen, [Jusuf] Nurkic was in front of him coming back. In those moments, if you’re going to go 2-for-1, it has to be either you going downhill to attack the rim or you going downhill for a draw and a kick. I felt like he settled on that.

One of the viral videos going around after the disappointing loss to the Blazers on Sunday night centered on Westbrook’s ill-advised shot. Not only did it show him jacking up a shot, with a chance to drive and create contact as he does so well, but it also showed another angle of the play that got both the reactions of James and Davis.


LeBron and AD weren’t happy with Russell Westbrook’s shot selection here… Finally time to send Westbrook packing? #russellwestbrook #westbrook #lalakers #lakeshow #lakers #lebron #anthonydavis #lakersnation

♬ original sound – Ryan Ward

Both players were dumbfounded by Westbrook’s shot attempt, which bounced off the rim like most of his shots have this season. The soon-to-be 34-year-old shot an atrocious 4-for-15 on the night after an eye-popping 0-for-11 the previous game.

Although he put on a defensive clinic, Davis wasn’t all that happy after the game.

There’s no way we’re supposed to lose this game,” Davis said. “That’s where my frustration comes from.

Davis finished with 22 points, 10 rebounds, six blocks, three assists and two steals. After missing most of the past two seasons, Davis seems determined to prove his worth this year as he tries to get the Lakers back on track.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Westbrook. He has shown some flashes on defense, averaging 2.0 steals per game thus far, but he’s been a nonfactor offensively with some embarrassing shooting numbers. He’s currently shooting 28.9 percent from the field and 8.3 percent from beyond the arc.

Yes, 8.3 percent. I can’t recall ever seeing any player in the NBA shooting in a single-digit percentage from deep, let alone a “superstar” making over $47 million in a season.

Perhaps the saddest part about the Lakers’ season thus far is that the team has bought in defensively but has nothing to show for it. They gave the Los Angeles Clippers all they could handle and could’ve easily come out with the victory against Lillard’s Blazers, yet they sit at 0-3.

One of the toughest challenges for Frank Vogel last year was getting the team to show some effort and play well defensively. That seems to be no longer a problem (at least for the time being), but if something isn’t done on the offensive end, namely moving Westbrook for upgrades, this will be another long season filled with disappointment.

The Lakers have been linked to Terry Rozier of the Charlotte Hornets, along with the rumors about a deal for Turner and Hield. He’d immediately bring an exciting dynamic to the backcourt by adding a proven scorer into the mix. However, he’s a ball-dominant guard, which has shown not to work well with James in the past.

Also, adding Rozier could be redundant. People forget that Dennis Schroder is still on the mend. He may not be the scorer that Rozier is, but he brings a better all-around game to the table, in my opinion.

The real question is: Can the Lakers wait 20 games to decide to make a deal?

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the team is in a waiting period to see if things work out with the way the team is currently constructed. A deal before Thanksgiving seemed very unlikely.

So far, a move seems desperately needed, but that could quickly change in the coming weeks. Starting 0-3 could become something forgotten in Los Angeles if James and company can figure this out.

The real tragedy will be letting a great defense go to waste. It’s only a matter of time before players become disinterested and unmotivated if the losing continues.

Time is of the essence in Los Angeles, with all eyes on the front office for the Purple and Gold. Patience will be tested, and judgment and blame will be assessed if they get it wrong for another season in the LeBron era.

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