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The Lakers are screwed.

The Los Angeles Lakers finally broke their duck! In defeating the visiting Denver Nuggets, the Lakers became the 30th and final NBA team to notch up their first win of the season. Throw them a damn parade!!!

Of course, it wasn’t meant to be like this. The Lakers are a team loaded with talent. LeBron James is an undoubted top three all-time baller. Anthony Davis is probably going to the Hall of Fame. Even Russell Westbrook can be effective in the right circumstances (he was good in the win against Denver).

Around those stars, the Lakers have a reasonable level of supporting talent. Lonnie Walker IV is playing career best basketball since coming over from San Antonio. Austin Reaves looks like he’ll have a long NBA career. Patrick Beverley is a defender of some renown.

However, the roster construction is poor, to say the least. LeBron himself has pointed out the lack of outside shooting on this team. Since the bubble championship, Davis’ jump shot has abandoned him to the point where you have to ask if the Monstars were involved. Beverley isn’t a great jump shooter and Westbrook’s shooting is historically poor. Lonnie Walker and Troy Brown are decent but in reality, it’s only LeBron and Reaves who are reliable from beyond the arc. That’s just not conducive to good NBA offense in this day and age.

There’s also stagnation to the Lakers’ offense. James, Davis, and Westbrook are all used to having the basketball in their hands. None are particularly willing cutters. Neither are Beverley or Reaves. Walker is a very good mover off the ball but stands out on this team as a contrast to the statues that surround him.

It’s more than just offense, though. There is a positional redundancy between James and Davis; the former a natural four at this point of his career, the other steadfastly refusing to acknowledge that he’s no longer a four. Westbrook and Beverley are point guards who can only play a certain way. Even a couple of their off-season pickups in Damion Jones and Thomas Bryant – both centres – play AD’s best position.

There is also a serious lack of defensive ability throughout the roster. Davis has lost a step but is still very, very good on defense when healthy and James can turn it on when required (his defense on Jokic late on in the Denver win was fantastic). Beverley is a hound but is and has always been a fouling machine. He’s more of a tone-setter than an out-and-out stopper who clearly doesn’t impact winning as much as he thinks he does. Reaves is smart but unathletic by NBA standards. Walker’s an athletic marvel who’s mind can wander on the defensive end of the floor.

It’s an accepted fact that teams will suffer once LeBron rides his horse out of town, but the deal is supposed to assure you of contention whilst he suiting up. James made the playoffs every year from 2006 through 2018, making the finals nine times and claiming three rings in the process. He was practically a competitive guarantee.

Upon joining the Lakers for the 2019 season that streak was broken, though given the team was rebuilding – and clearly pining for Davis – that wasn’t altogether unexpected. When – with AD in tow – he won the 2020 championship it further cemented the view that 2019 was a necessary blip.

Given the Lakers meek surrender to Phoenix in the first round of the 2021 playoffs, then missing out altogether last season that successful 2020 campaign is now seen as the outlier.

Whilst the present looks bleak in Lakerland, the future looks no brighter.

In assuring that James can compete for titles, it’s an expectation that you trade away young talent and picks for win-now players. The Lakers have certainly done that, not controlling a first round pick until 2027.

When LeBron left Cleveland to come to the Lakers the Cavs fell from 50 wins to just 19. When he left them the first time around they also won just 19 games, falling all the way from a 61 win total the season prior. Even the Miami Heat, that beacon of organisational stability, dropped from 54 to 37 victories. If you’re lucky, you’ll pick up some juicy draft picks to help your rebuild, just as the Cavs did with Kyrie Irving and Andrew Wiggins. The Lakers don’t have that luxury.

The Lakers jettisoned their veteran depth in the ill-fated Westbrook trade. They unloaded most of their formidable young talent as well as a swag of picks to bring in Davis. Westbrook was clearly a win-now move. Davis, though, was supposed to be the bridge that helped the Lakers avoid Cleveland’s fate.

He was 26 years old at the time of the trade. An established perennial All-Star about to enter his prime. Now, on the verge of turning 30, he’s diminished at both ends of the floor and a constant injury risk, even pulling up late in the Lakers win, clutching at that troublesome lower back.

If Davis can’t be the leader of a championship contending post-LeBron Lakers, then how do the Lakers bridge those generations? Thankfully, LeBron’s seemingly ageless game has bought the Lakers more time than they may have originally thought they would have.

So how can the Lakers navigate this mess?

The first item on the to-do list should be taking a lesson from the post LBJ Cavaliers. On both occasions that James left his native Ohio, the Cavs cleaned house, getting rid of coach Mike Brown and general manager Danny Ferry in 2010, then Ty Lue and David Griffin in 2018.

The Lakers have already replaced former coach Frank Vogel (by the way, can we all agree that this Lakers tyre fire is very much NOT Vogel’s fault?). Darvin Ham, despite being a rookie head coach, is well regarded and doesn’t appear to shirk the big decisions. To complete the cycle, LA should give Rob Pelinka his marching orders, too.

Nobody doubts that Pelinka knows basketball. He’s been around the game his entire life. He’s the son of a coach and was a four year collegiate player at Michigan. As an off-court decision maker, though, he appears to have made one decision that showed remarkable foresight – sidling up to a young Kobe Bryant – amidst a whole series of poor judgements.

Once you have somebody else on board to lead the front office, they’ll need to decide what to do about this season. Do the Lakers stick or twist?

If the Lakers decide to make the most of this campaign then they simply have to trade Westbrook, even if that means giving up their 2027 and 2029 first round picks.

The oft-mentioned trade for Pacers pair Myles Turner and Buddy Hield would be a good start. There are other options, too. Danny Ainge sure as hell didn’t intend to assemble a juggernaut in Utah – he’ll be looking to ship out talent sooner rather than later.

We’re 48 hours away from Lauri Markkanen – currently tearing it up on Salt Lake City – being trade eligible. A swap of him, Mike Conley, and Jordan Clarkson for Westbrook works cap wise. That would give the Lakers a genuine floor general, a big man who can stretch the floor next to AD or LeBron and a career scorer who has turned into a very good playmaker this season. All can shoot the rock.

Add those three to a core of James, Davis, Walker, Beverley, and Reaves and suddenly you’re looking at a strong eight man rotation.

If those draft picks are not on the table under any circumstance then you simply have to ride out the season and let Westbrook’s gargantuan $47 million salary come off the books. That, though, might not be the worst option.

The Lakers first round draft pick this season will go to the New Orleans Pelicans, but that shouldn’t stop the Lakers from chucking the season away if they think it’s the best thing for the future. Maybe rest Davis’ ailing back. Let LeBron take a few extra nights off. You’re still the Lakers. You’ll have a $47 million gap in your cap sheet next off-season. Free agents will come.

And there are a myriad of players who at this point will be available in the off-season that would help the Lakers immensely.

Want to go with a stretch big who can protect the rim? Turner is a free agent at the end of this season. As is Kristaps Porzingis. How about a scoring point guard? Kyrie Irving has made no secret of his desire to again team up with LeBron. Fred Vanvleet might fancy seeing the sun once in a while. Former Laker D’Angelo Russell could be available. Want pure shooters? Vanvleet’s back court running mate Gary Trent Jr is an option, as is the underutilised Bogdan Bogdanovic. A playmaking wing? Could Khris Middleton be talked into heading west? Fancy another power forward (screw positional overlap)? Bring in Cam Johnson or get beloved former Laker Kyle Kuzma back into the fold. The point is this: options are there.

(This writers personal favorite: re-sign Russ, ink Kyrie, convince James Harden and Draymond Green to forego their player options to join up with LeBron. Then have Big Brother style hidden cameras on these guys 24/7. The lulz would be off the charts)

Despite all the doom and gloom the Lakers do have paths back to, if not true contention, then at least respectability, be it this seaosn or the next.

It will require making some tough decisions, starting with Westbrook and Pelinka.

Do the Lakers have the balls?

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