On the second anniversary of Kobe Bryant’s death a few days ago, the Los Angeles Lakers paid an unintentional tribute to their fallen legend with their sloppy 24-24 record.
While their homage could have been worse (i.e. an 8-24 slate), it was a stark reminder of how poorly things have gone for the Lakers this season. This team was tabbed as one of the favorites to win the title just a few months ago, but instead they have regressed into a traveling circus with little to no sense of what type of team they want to be.
The problems manifest on the court though they start from the top with the team’s front office. The construction of this roster is shaky at best and relies too much on the assumption that their three future Hall of Famers can figure out how to carry this team. Their most recent loss, an embarrassing 105-87 defeat against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center, was a stark reminder of this.
Although LeBron James sat out with knee soreness, it was theoretically still a winnable game for Los Angeles and should not have been as lopsided as it turned out to be. After falling behind in the third quarter, they failed to mount any real challenge and never recovered.
It was not all doom and gloom, as Anthony Davis was brilliant in his second game since his return from a month-long absence. He outplayed this season’s NBA Most Valuable Player front-runner Joel Embiid, with the former putting up 31 points, 12 rebounds, two steals, and four blocks versus the latter’s 26 points, nine rebounds, seven assists, and two blocks. This was just the second game over the past five weeks that Embiid failed to score over 30 points and it was largely due to Davis’ presence.
The game served as a reminder of the eight-time NBA All-Star Davis’ individual greatness and simultaneously reiterated how poorly this Laker team fits with one another.
Despite the absence of Embiid’s co-star Ben Simmons, the Sixers are currently in the mix for the best record in the resurgent Eastern Conference. Embiid is thriving alongside a supporting cast that is filled with shooters, capable defenders, and career role players who have a grand total of two NBA All-Star appearances (Both from back-up center Andre Drummond) amongst themselves. This Philadelphia team accentuates Embiid’s strengths and there is almost a decade worth of evidence that Davis would thrive in a similar environment.
Instead, Davis and James are left to work with the NBA’s version of “The Expendables” with six other players on the Laker roster combining for a total of 34 NBA All-Star nods. Unfortunately, these players are all well past their prime and their resumes cannot suit up in their stead.
The Lakers are now 24-25 for the season, falling below .500 for the nth time, yet this campaign is far from over and there is still room for redemption. They are ninth in the West, which would give them a play-in slot if the season ended today, however the rest of the conference has luckily not run away from them.
Los Angeles is only six games behind the fourth-place Utah Jazz and things could take a turn for the better if their dynamic duo can remain healthy. Davis and James have only suited up in 16 games together this season and more shared time could help them figure out how to make things work for this team. The looming trade deadline also brings hope for a revamp, though this will require the most cunning of efforts from general manager Rob Pelinka given their dearth of tradable assets.
While the resources that they have at their disposal are scarce, there are still a handful of pieces present that can make it work for this team. The two five-man line-ups that have performed best for the Lakers, with a minimum of 20 minutes played together, have featured Dwight Howard as their center and either LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony as the small-ball power forward.
These two units have a net rating of 37.5 and 23.1, respectively, and it is not far-fetched that they can perform even better with Davis playing that role instead of Howard. The key now will be their ability to remain injury-free, especially for Davis who has played in barely half of their games this season.
This team is far from perfect, though one of the most proven ways to victory in the NBA through its 75 years of existence has been the presence of star power on a team. The Lakers have two of the best players in the league today in Davis and James, which may be enough for them to turn things around and salvage this season, albeit the margin for error is much slimmer now than it was a few months ago.
A roster like that of this Philadelphia team that just blew them out would have been an ideal fit for Davis and James, but this group will have to do for now.