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Everything looked rosy on Tuesday in LA at the Lakers team facility. Russell Westbrook made nice with Patrick Beverley. Coach Darvin Ham expressed excitement for what’s ahead this year. In his words, “I’ve the very best seat inside your home.”
If the LA Lakers proceed through with keeping Russell Westbrook, can they really rebound strongly from last year’s 33-win debacle?
Was the offseason of angst unnecessary? Will those ice-cold shoulders at summer league between LeBron James and Westbrook melt off in training camp beneath the warmth of the brand new head coach?
Hamwho by all accounts has been worth a head coaching position for pretty much half of a decadeis naturally likely to talk up his players three weeks from training camp. If the Lakers opt to go in another direction with Westbrook, Ham will pivot.
As of this moment, competing executives aren’t sure the Lakers will send away one future first-round pick, aside from two, to obtain out of Westbrook’s contract unless the return package substantially improves the team. So what’s the program?
“It starts with the defensive end. It isn’t much use if we don’t guard anybody,” Ham said. “We have three first-ballot Hall of Famers along with other guys around them who is able to score. Offense, we simply need to be organized and become disciplined in how exactly we space and how exactly we run and where we give this business the ball.”
Frank Vogel had an identical message as coach this past year but struggled to locate a healthy mix of players who could score and obtain stops. He never discovered that perfect rotation, hindered by injuries to Anthony Davis and James.
To greatly help Ham execute his vision, leading office gave him younger, more athletic role players. The team is deeper, but shooting remains a problem. Getting ultimately more than 56 and 40 games, respectively, out of James and Davis would go a mighty good way.
In a nutshell, you can find more questions than answers for Ham and L.A., regardless of the positive sound bites we heard Tuesday. So Bleacher Report polled seven NBA sources for possible check, the majority of whom were generally pessimistic.
‘They Require a Time Machine’
Assuming the Lakers remain healthy, can Ham coach this squad to the playoffs?
Of the seven polled NBA sources (including executives and agents), only 1 is confident in the Lakers’ postseason chances. Two aren’t confident but ultimately think they’ll enter seeded between fifth and eighth. Three start to see the best case as a 9-10 finish, with L.A. needing two wins in the play-in merely to make the playoffs. The final doesn’t expect the franchise to even make the play-in.
“The West has eight playoff-caliber teams, which leaves two play-in spots for the Lakers, [Sacramento] Kings and Portland [Trail Blazers],” a realtor said, assuming the Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder, Utah Jazz and San Antonio Spurs are lottery-bound.
What’s the most important dependence on the Lakers to become bigger playoff hopeful? The answers were uniform.
“They have to add shooting; defense aswell,” another said, with everybody echoing that sentiment.
Will there be an individual step the team may take to become contender? One answer stood out.
“They want a period machine,” one answered sarcastically, suggesting that rewinding in order to avoid doing the Westbrook trade completely was the only real answer.
Ham appears to believe Westbrook is a net positive for the Lakers, but he also believes Westbrook was deficient on defense last season. The nine-time All-Star must make massive strides this year.
“If they’re not trading Westbrook, it’s time indeed to stop tiptoeing around his feelings,” one source explained. “If he’s got ahead off the bench or not play at all, then do what’s best for the team. If his play isn’t leading to positive contributions, then look at additional options.”
The idea of a Westbrook trade was a favorite topic, be it for role players from the Utah Jazz like Bojan Bogdanovic and Mike Conley or perhaps a package from the Indiana Pacers built around Myles Turner.
“The [Lakers] need depth also to turn Russ into multiple pieces that may play minus the ball and space the ground,” one source said, emphasizing that nearly every NBA system requires at the very least set up a baseline of sufficient shooting unless the team can be an absolute beast defensively. The Lakers aren’t the latter, at the very least in writing.
Could it be worth quitting a couple of first-round picks to obtain role players for Westbrook?
“That’s around [team governor] Jeanie Buss and leading office,” one agent replied.
Concerns Re: Davis, Beverley
Exactly the same source raised concerns about Davis. “He’s been more inconsistent than consistent, beyond his play in the bubble.”
Davis shot just 18.6 percent from three-point range this past year and 26.0 percent in 2020-21. Westbrook hit 29.8 percent in his lone season with the Lakers.
“Individually, they’re three elite talents, but how exactly can Ham space the ground around LeBron with two non-shooters in huge roles?” another executive asked.
As the Beverley acquisition was generally lauded, one remarked that he’s another “injury-prone player.”
“Beverley only plays 50 games a season,” one agent said. The guard has averaged 48.7 in the last 3 years.
Ham isn’t walking into a perfect situation, but few rookie coaches inherit a championship-grade roster. Perhaps Ham will get combinations that shoot and defend sufficiently to provide the team the opportunity.
One source was bullish: “They will have LeBron and AD. If they are healthy, the Lakers remain dangerous.”
If the shooting matches the numbers in writing, the Lakers will have to compensate by playing elite-level defense this year. None of these polled expect L.A. to be anywhere near a high defensive squad.