The Los Angeles Lakers' season ended in disappointment after not only missing the playoffs, but getting excluded from the play-in round after finishing with a 33-49 record. Injuries certainly played a role as LeBron James played in just 56 games, while Anthony Davis was available for just 40 games. Then there was the failure of the Russell Westbrook experiment, an issue that may not get resolved in the offseason if the Lakers can't find a trade partner to take on his $47 million expiring contract, or if the two sides can't come to an agreement on a buyout.
It was the second straight season that the Lakers' championship hunt came to an abrupt end, following the 2020-21 postseason where they were bounced in the first round by the No. 2 seeded Phoenix Suns, who eventually made a run all the way to the NBA Finals. Injuries played a role in that situation as well, and Davis even thinks that if he were healthy the Lakers would've won that series against Phoenix. Injuries aside, though, one of the most common questions asked about the Lakers is why have they experienced little success in the last two seasons after winning it all in 2020? Well, Lakers legend James Worthy has an answer.
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"The Lakers, I think they have refused to build over the years," Worthy said during an appearance on the "Stoney & Jansen Show." "We've had some good players: [Brandon] Ingram, [Julius] Randle, [Lonzo] Ball. We have tried to win quickly. In Kobe [Bryant]'s last few years, we brought in [Steve] Nash who was a little bit older, Dwight Howard came in with a back injury. We traded away draft picks to try to win immediately and I think they're going to have really think about how they need to build."
"You look at Memphis, you look at the way Boston is playing right now, you look at the way Milwaukee has built a team over time. We need to create players that have cohesiveness. We had it a couple years ago and we traded it all away to try to win, to try to match what Brooklyn was doing and what other teams were doing with their Big Three players. I think that's going to go away. That's an illusion, having the Big Three. You see what happened in Brooklyn, you see what happened with the Lakers. Even though everyone experienced injuries, you still should be playing better and you should definitely be in the playoffs. So the Lakers -- it's embarrassing and it's unacceptable."
Here's the thing with Worthy's assessment. It's ignoring the LeBron James factor of it all. Yes, Boston, Memphis and Milwaukee have all essentially built their teams with homegrown talent and hit the jackpot in the draft by selecting players like Jayson Tatum, Ja Morant and Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Lakers did draft some quality players, but they traded it away for LeBron James and a title. So would you rather have a combination of Julius Randle, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and no title, or LeBron and a championship? My guess is anyone would take the latter.
While Worthy did mention the injuries being an obstacle for the Lakers, I don't think it can be understated how detrimental it is to lose your two best players for 20 games at a time each. A season ago, perhaps a healthy Davis does help the Lakers advance past the Suns and beyond. This season, while Westbrook's fit on the team was certainly questionable, having Davis and LeBron healthy would've made a significant difference.
It's understandable to question if the Lakers took the right path when they mortgaged their future for a title run and LeBron, but they succeeded in capturing that championship two seasons ago. The plan they laid out actually worked, and it might've worked last season, too, had A.D. been healthy.
But clearly for Worthy that one championship wasn't enough, and the Lakers will have to find some answers to improve this summer before embarking on another title quest that will be even more difficult than the last one with a loaded Western Conference.