LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and the Los Angeles Lakers’ tumultuous season, in their own words.
LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and the Los Angeles Lakers’ tumultuous season, in their own words.
New Los Angeles Lakers are usually taken to owner Jeanie Buss’ office on the second floor of the team’s training facility, which overlooks the practice court. With good reason: 11 Larry O’Brien trophies, the building’s centerpieces and continuous sources of inspiration, are displayed in plain view of the courts on a specially created credenza under a large window.
Russell Westbrook became the next in a long list of players to make their first journey inside in late August, just after the Lakers acquired him in a blockbuster deal with the Washington Wizards.
In a moment caught on the cable television program “Backstage: Lakers on Spectrum SportsNet,” Buss informed the 2017 MVP, “I’m so glad that you’re here.”
Buss tells Westbrook about her father, late owner Jerry Buss, as she begins into what must be an all-too-familiar speech.
“My father purchased the club in 1979, and his first year as owner coincided with Magic [Johnson’s] rookie season, during which they won the title. And owning the Lakers was part of his plan to one day overtake the Boston Celtics. So we’re currently tied for 17th place with 17 championships…”
“Then we know what we have to do,” Westbrook said as he jumped in.
“We’re sort of fascinated with 18,” Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka said, referring to Westbrook’s visit to Buss.
As the Lakers hobble to the finish line of the regular season with a 31-45 record and an 11th-place finish in the Western Conference, attempting to claw their way into the last play-in tournament slot, that day and those thoughts are a distant memory. But it serves as a reminder that this was a club that the organization’s top levels thought was championship-worthy.
For the 2021-22 Lakers, the season’s aspirations and spirit have been drained in a long path of disappointment, unhappiness, and ill luck. Here’s how everything went down, in the words of the players, coaches, and management:
LeBron James tweets on the Lakers’ offseason moves on August 4th.
“Keep talking about my team, our ages, the way he plays, how he remains injured, how we’ve outlived our welcome in this league, and so on. Please do me a favor!!!! Please, please, please!!! When it starts, keep the same narrative ENERGY! All I want is for you to do that.”
Westbrook’s first press conference is on August 10th.
Pelinka: I’m Pelinka, and I’m “When an opportunity like that presents itself, you think about it, study it, weigh the advantages and drawbacks, and make a choice. That is exactly what leaders are expected to accomplish.”
With this comments, Pelinka made it obvious that trading for Westbrook was his choice and that he took full responsibility for it. James and Westbrook have been discussing about playing together for weeks, according to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne. Pelinka had planned a deal to get Buddy Hield from the Sacramento Kings, but he changed his mind after Westbrook requested the Washington Wizards to sell him to the Lakers on draft day.
Frank Vogel, head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers: “We’ll be a really dynamic, fast-breaking squad that can use all three players in a variety of ways. This year, I believe we have a genuine potential to achieve something spectacular…. We are motivated by the prize, not by what others are saying.”
Vogel was denying that the Lakers, who had assembled the league’s oldest squad after adding six players in their 30s, four of whom were older than 34, couldn’t compete. The Lakers have risen from 21st in pace last season to seventh this season, proving that he was correct about the fast-break. However, it has coincided with a dismal drop from No. 1 defense last season to No. 23 this season.
Westbrook: I’m not sure what to say “Being able to be with my children all of the time, as well as seeing my parents and wife, is the finest thing I could ask for. It’s a gift for me that I don’t have to take them everywhere.”
From the moment he arrived in Los Angeles, Westbrook prioritized his family, which was an underrated reason for his desire to play for the Lakers. He felt the burden of not having his wife and three small children around him full time the previous two seasons while he played in Houston and Washington. Westbrook would frequently rely on being with his family, rather than his performance, as the source of his enjoyment in the difficult times ahead.
The Lakers’ training camp begins on September 27.
Pelinka talked to the players before practice started, which was eventually shown on “Backstage: Lakers.”
To the squad, Pelinka says: “You could argue that this team has the best collection of basketball skill in recent memory. That’s what you could say. But without the right attitude as a team, it’s all for nothing, as we all know.”
To the press, James says: “This summer, it was a thrill to assist in the formation of this squad. Understanding how I felt and how we all felt will help us become a title-contending squad. I’ve seen enough basketball to know what I need to do to assist the team, depending on the number of additions we make each year. So I’m thinking a lot about what I need to do to help our team be the best it can be and to balance off what Russ brings to the table… I always figure it out.”
Within the organization, optimism about the Lakers’ prospects of winning a title remained strong. Specifically, James backed up stories regarding his participation in putting together the roster, taking responsibility of the choices, and, most notably, the Westbrook deal.
On the bench, on October 22nd, there was a lot of drama.
Anthony Davis addressed Dwight Howard on the bench during a break in a 10-point defeat to the Phoenix Suns. When they finished speaking, Howard rose to face Davis, who grabbed Howard’s arm. As Davis pointed and shouted at Howard, teammates separated them.
‘Howard,’ I say “We’re OK. It was suffocated by us. He’s my younger brother.”
“We left it in the locker room at halftime,” Davis says.
The players’ concerns arose from a defensive coverage issue, which was the first outward hint of more internal challenges to come. For the first time in club history, the Lakers began 0-2 with both defeats coming at home.
November: Rumors regarding the Lakers’ offseason start to circulate.
Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers, on Nov. 3: “[James] created a picture for me of what the scenario may look like if I left. He didn’t tell me to come to Los Angeles, and he didn’t say anything to me that I didn’t already know about the city.”
Alex Caruso of the Chicago Bulls on Nov. 9: “We basically received that [Chicago Bulls four-year, $37 million] offer, returned to Los Angeles, and asked if they could do the same, and they said no. They refused to give me anything else that was a bit less. ‘OK, if that’s what it comes down to, I’m ready to go to Chicago and begin the next chapter,’ I responded.”
Caruso’s departure in September was addressed by Pelinka: “Alex was fantastic here; he’s a championship player, and we’ll be eternally thankful for his contributions and development. He had options, and he selected a different team.”
DeMar DeRozan, a Bulls guard, on Nov. 15: “I had the impression that going to the Lakers was a foregone conclusion and that we would work it out. I was planning on returning home. It simply didn’t work out on the business side of things.”
Nuggets at Lakers, 3:30 p.m. Sunday, April 3 Mavs at Bucks, 1 p.m. (ABC) (ABC)
Bucks at. Bulls, Tuesday, April 5th, 8 p.m.
All timings are in Eastern Standard Time.
Caruso revealed his tale on JJ Redick’s podcast, “The Old Man and the Three,” while Lillard and DeRozan talked to Yahoo. The interviews and revelations followed in fast succession, as the Lakers were off to a terrible 9-10 start with Westbrook struggling, and the Bulls were off to a 10-4 start with Caruso and DeRozan.
Each Lillard and DeRozan mentioned how James was their point of contact, with both of them visiting with him at his house in Brentwood, California, emphasizing James’ importance in the Lakers’ summer decisions. The San Antonio Spurs and DeRozan’s agent, Aaron Goodwin, had hammered out a workable sign-and-trade agreement that would’ve moved DeRozan to Los Angeles, but ESPN’s Shelburne subsequently claimed that a probable sticking point was the Lakers’ unwillingness to guarantee DeRozan a third year. It didn’t matter since the Lakers shifted their focus to the Westbrook deal, and DeRozan was promised three years and $82 million from Chicago.
The Lakers’ first offer was two years and $15 million, according to Caruso. The organization was more interested in re-signing Talen Horton-Tucker for three years and $31 million than in signing Caruso for a lower annual salary. They held the rights to both players and could have signed them both, but luxury tax considerations most likely influenced their decision.
Regardless of the nuances, the main conclusion was that the Lakers’ other alternatives were delivering their tales, and the one they selected, Westbrook, was failing.
Vogel comes under criticism as losses grow on December 6th.
“With this position, there will be criticism; it’s something we’re all used to, and I’ve been a coach for ten years, so I’ve seen it all.”
James: I’m James “You know, criticism is a part of the business. Frank is a determined individual. He has a fantastic coaching team behind him. We’re a group and an organization that don’t mind hardship, and we don’t mind people saying negative things about us because it’s part of the job.”
Vogel received a contract extension with the Lakers during the summer, making him the first Lakers coach to do so since Phil Jackson. Despite the Lakers winning the championship in 2020, it was revealed that it was just a one-year extension till 2023. After winning the championship in 2021, the Milwaukee Bucks granted Mike Budenholzer a three-year contract extension. With the Lakers off to a 12-12 start, the team’s faith in Vogel was shattered, and questions about his job security grew.
Buss backs Vogel on December 8th.
Bus service: “I don’t believe you can make any judgments until we’re 100 percent healthy…. We’re as interconnected as any company can be. I’m not sure what you’re hoping for me to say. I wouldn’t draw any conclusions regarding a future until we’re 100 percent healthy “”Everything.”
These remarks were given to NBA.com during halftime of a victory against the Boston Celtics in an attempt to put an end to speculation about Vogel’s impending dismissal. As a tribute to Vogel’s struggle, Buss mentioned injuries to Trevor Ariza, Horton-Tucker, and James, who each missed 10 of the team’s first 16 games due to ailments.
Westbrook trade speculations and Vogel termination rumors surfaced on January 17th.
Westbrook was benched during the Lakers’ home defeat on January 19th.
The Lakers hold firm at the deadline, and an All-Star selection is made.
Pelinka: I’m Pelinka, and I’m “We looked at various things during the process, and I had talks with LeBron and Anthony about it, as I’ve done in the past, and I’d say there’s alignment here. And it is the only thing that counts.”
Vogel (Vogel): “Today is a new day. Knowing that the trade deadline has past, I believe our group has a natural reset vibe. This is the group we put together at the beginning of the year. This is a group in whom we believe.”
James: I’m James “The time for trading has passed. Many individuals have had the chance to move on and realize that this is what we have, that we are going to be together, and that now is the time to make a push.”
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The Lakers remained unmoved at the trade deadline, according to Vogel, which reassured many on the squad. James, on the other hand, did not seem to be moving on as he had said. His connection with the front office looked to deteriorate during the following ten days. According to ESPN, James and Pelinka were not on the same page regarding the deadline inactivity, as the GM had intimated. According to various sources, the club declined to make their 2027 first-round selection, which was the only one it could trade, accessible to interested parties. That stymied any hope of a major trade, particularly one involving Westbrook, who had become a coveted trade target.
On the day of the Los Angeles Rams’ championship parade, James tweeted a picture of Rams GM Les Snead wearing a shirt that said “F—- those picks,” a reference to Snead’s bold deals to build a club that could win right away. In what seemed to be a direct dig at the Lakers’ front staff for not moving draft selections at the deadline, James tweeted the words “Legend! My sort of person!!”
When questioned about returning to play for the Cleveland Cavaliers during All-Star Weekend in Cleveland, James replied in an interview that “the door is not closed on that.” Although James clarified his words, there was substantial outrage in Los Angeles. While in Cleveland, he also lauded Sam Presti, the general manager of the Oklahoma City Thunder, for his drafting, which many saw as another dig at Pelinka.
Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times said during the All-Star break that the Lakers should sell James, who is under contract through 2023 and does not have a no-trade clause. Following that, James’ agent Rich Paul and Pelinka met to try to calm down the media frenzy.
Davis fell down again in the second game following the break, this time with a foot strain. As a result, the possibility of a James departure faded into the background as the Lakers’ issues worsened.
‘Westbrick’ premieres on March 8th.
James says he’s having ‘the time of his life’ on March 21.
James: I’m James “Right now, I’m literally enjoying the time of my life. The game is just stunning…. Yes, I am irritated. I’m enraged because of defeats and games when we should have done better, and stuff like that. But, after I go home from the arena, I’ll leave it there, and we’ll move on to the next one.”
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Vogel (Vogel): “He wants to play every time the team is in action, unless there is a compelling reason for him not to. It makes no difference whether he’s close to Karl Malone or not, or if he’s looking at the larger picture or not. I believe he is setting an example for the league by doing so in his 19th season.”
James had scored his 36,929th point the night before in Washington, D.C., to pass Karl Malone for second place on the all-time scoring record. The following day, after a victory in front of adoring fans in Cleveland, when James scored 38 points and took over the lead in the season’s scoring race, James confessed that the Lakers’ season results are no longer relevant to his attitude. James’ remarks were revealing, as was Vogel’s praise, which looked to be a jab at other teams’ stars who sat out for rest.
March 31: The Lakers drop to 11th place, putting them in risk of missing the playoffs completely.
Vogel (Vogel): “We must remain committed to the struggle and give ourselves a chance. We know we have a chance if we can get into the play-in game at full strength.”
“I mean, it’s self-explanatory,” Westbrook says.
Vogel has been repeating this mantra for weeks, emphasizing that there is still a slim possibility. That is still right, but it is terrifying. The Lakers have gone 7-21 since getting to 24-24 with a victory at Brooklyn on Jan. 25. Davis has missed more games than he has played (39) in his career (37). James has missed 21 games this season, and the Lakers have gone 6-15 in those games. The season has been a lengthy stretch of shattered aspirations.
The “lakers injury report” is a story about the Los Angeles Lakers’ tumultuous season. LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and more have spoken to the media about their thoughts on the team’s performance.
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