The Los Angeles Lakers were on top of the world just two years ago. They navigated through all sorts of adversity to win the 2020 NBA Championship in the Orlando bubble, tying the Boston Celtics for the most in league history with 17.
Since then though? Everything has gone downhill.
The Lakers went from the best team in the league to arguably one of the worst as they currently sit at 0-4 on the young 2022-23 season.
Many people deserve blame for this, no one person is solely responsible for this downturn of historic proportions.
But at the end of the day, the person in charge is Rob Pelinka and despite the contract extension that he inexplicably received from the Lakers, the truth is that he has made some really poor decisions so let’s break them down here.
Trading for Westbrook
Pelinka built a championship roster in 2019-20 and deserves some credit for that. He even deserves credit for building an arguably better roster in 2020-21 that started off 21-6 and looked to be another championship-caliber team before Anthony Davis and LeBron James got injured, derailing their season.
The miscues really started in the summer of 2021 and by far the biggest one was trading for Russell Westbrook.
Westbrook was not a good fit with the Lakers from the very beginning. He is a ball-dominant point guard who cannot shoot or defend. The exact opposite type of play you want alongside James and Davis!
But not only did the Lakers add Westbrook and his insane contract, which had two years and almost $100 million remaining, but they did so while also giving up valuable assets.
In order to trade for Westbrook, the Lakers gave up two of their championship role players in Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, plus Montrezl Harrell AND a first-round pick in that year’s draft.
Sure, James and Davis played their own role in this. Reports have indicated that Pelinka wanted to complete a trade with the Sacramento Kings for Buddy Hield but his stars instead pushed for Westbrook.
The job of the GM is to do what’s best for the team though. Sometimes that means listening to your stars, and sometimes that means ignoring them to make the move that you think is best.
Pelinka clearly did the former, and the Lakers are still paying for it as they were unable to trade Westbrook this past offseason and his $47 million contract remains on the roster which has led to poor surrounding pieces in each of the last two seasons.
Words cannot describe how big of a franchise-altering blunder trading for Westbrook was.
Choosing THT over Caruso
But even though it was far and away the biggest, Westbrook isn’t the only mistake Pelinka has made the last couple of years.
Another was choosing to re-sign Talen Horton-Tucker instead of Alex Caruso in the summer of 2021.
After making the deal for Westbrook, the Lakers were only able to keep one of the two due to Jeanie Buss’ inability to go too far over the luxury tax and they chose the less-proven Horton-Tucker.
Not only had Caruso accomplished more and was asking for around the same money, but he was also beloved by the fanbase more than any other role player in recent memory.
Caruso has taken his game to the next level in Chicago while Horton-Tucker has failed to develop into an NBA rotation player this early in his career, later being traded to the Utah Jazz.
No, Caruso wouldn’t fix all of the Lakers’ issues. But his defensive intensity and chemistry with James and Davis has been sorely missed.
Where is the shooting?
This past summer was the biggest indictment on Pelinka’s resume as not only did he fail to trade Westbrook, but he also failed to put a competent roster around the team’s stars which looks like is leading to another lost season for L.A.
Through four games, the Lakers are shooting just 22.3% from 3, by far the worst mark in the league. The Lakers likely won’t be THIS bad for the rest of the season, but the fact of the matter is that this roster has no shooting on it. Not even one above-avaerage 3-point shooter.
The formula for putting a good team around James for the last two decades has been shooting and defense.
The Lakers look adequate on defense so far, but the lack of shooting is glaring and unfortunately there is no easy fix.
Can Pelinka find a Westbrook trade that brings in some shooting and fixes the Lakers’ issues? Maybe. But that would require sacrificing even more valuable assets that this team doesn’t have.