The Los Angeles Lakers' late-season collapse continued on Sunday with a 129-118 loss to the Denver Nuggets. That was their sixth defeat in a row, and 16th in 20 games since the All-Star break. Now two games back of the San Antonio Spurs for 10th place in the Western Conference, the Lakers are on the verge of missing the playoffs entirely.
That would be a stunning result for a team that won the championship just two seasons ago and was one of the favorites to win it all entering this season. Even if the Lakers manage to pull off a miracle in the final week and sneak into the play-in tournament, it's clear that they will need to make major changes this offseason.
Speaking to CBS Sports HQ, former Lakers legend Shaquille O'Neal weighed in with his thoughts on what they should do.
O'Neal's full comments:
"Gotta get rid of expiring contract, gotta get rid of the projects that didn't work and we gotta try to get younger and more athletic around LeBron. Because paper wise, when everybody did the deals it was like, 'ooh Westbrook, ooh this and that.' But age is a factor. AD was hurt all year. I think he played last year but gotta keep him health. Still keep LeBron and AD, and prolly gotta make moves for everybody else."
Injuries played a major role in the Lakers' disappointing season with LeBron James limited to 56 games and Anthony Davis limited to 39. Even when they were healthy, though, it was clear that this roster didn't work. The big offseason acquisition of Russell Westbrook was a disaster, and they were just 11-10 in the 21 games in which the big three was on the floor together. Other moves like letting Alex Caruso walk in free agency also proved to be mistakes.
The major issue moving forward, though, is unless they can somehow find a team willing to trade for Westbrook, the Lakers have zero flexibility. Even with just LeBron, Davis, Westbrook, Talen Horton-Tucker and possibly Kendrick Nunn (player option) on the books for next season, the Lakers' payroll is already over $147 million. That puts them well over the salary cap, even with a coming increase.
Getting younger and more athletic around LeBron and Davis sounds nice, but the Lakers have no cap space, no draft picks this year and have only two first-rounders (2027 and 2029) available to trade for the rest of this decade. They can make moves around the margins, but none of them will address their fundamental problems: the big three is aging, injury prone and does not fit together.