The Los Angeles Lakers' lost season is set to close out in a disappointing fashion. After losing to the Denver Nuggets last night, the Lakers are very close to being eliminated from the playoffs entirely. They'd need to go on a win streak in their last four games while also hoping for the San Antonio Spurs to go on a losing streak to have a prayer of making the play-in tournament. It is far more likely that this version of the Lakers fades out of existence with a whimper rather than a bang later this week.
That might be for the best, because it is abundantly clear to everybody outside the building that this roster does not work. Anthony Davis can bemoan the poor injury luck all he wants, these Lakers were fated to be terrible no matter who was or was not available on any given night. This is pretty much entirely due to the Russell Westbrook trade. Los Angeles traded away two of their best defenders to get Westbrook to LA. The roster was weakened without any way to reinforce it because of Westbrook's salary. Then Westbrook actually started playing and was much worse in terms of output and fit than anybody could've imagined.
Now that the Lakers are almost certain to miss the postseason entirely, big changes will be coming this offseason. But Magic Johnson doesn't think Westbrook should go. He said on Get Up this morning that he believes the Lakers' best path forward is to bring Westbrook back alongside AD and LeBron James for 2022-23.
His reasoning makes sense on a certain level. Westbrook hasn't been awful by his standards over the last week or so. It's a low bar to clear, but clear it he did. The strongest point made by the former Lakers exec is that Los Angeles cannot get rid of Westbrook without giving up additional assets because Westbrook will accept his player option for next season that's worth $47 million. It's an onerous deal no matter who it is, and Westbrook proved this year he's barely worth a tenth of that. Johnson reasons the Lakers are better off trying to make it work than giving up yet another first-round pick.
The problem is, with his contract on the books, the Lakers basically cannot do anything to alter the roster. Westbrook, LeBron, and AD will combine to make $125 million next season. That is higher than the projected salary cap of $122 million next season. For three guys! The Lakers will obviously pay the luxury tax to field a full roster and what have you but to say their flexibility is limited is an understatement.
Giving up yet another first-round pick, and doing so in order to fix a mistake rather than add another talented player to the roster, would be tough to swallow. But that's the price of business when LeBron James is on the roster. A 2027 first-round pick doesn't matter in 2022. If that's the price to reconfigure the roster and actually win games next year, so be it.
Johnson appears to have far more faith than the average person in the Lakers' ability to make the Westbrook/LeBron/AD trio work. What we saw this year indicates that faith couldn't be more misplaced.