LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook have equaled average results for Lakers
Who knows if Frank Vogel finishes the season as coach of the Los Angeles Lakers.
That’s up to president of basketball operations Rob Pelinka and, by extension, owner Jeanie Buss, who recently told NBA.com, "Until we’re 100% healthy, I don’t think you can really make any judgment."
The Lakers are just average — by definition with a 14-13 record and by the eye test. They climbed back over .500 after Friday's 116-95 win against the Oklahoma City Thunder. They had dropped below .500 with Thursday’s 108-95 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, who were without injured star Ja Morant. That’s a great sign for the upstart Grizzlies but not good for the Lakers, who are sixth place in the Western Conference.
Vogel, who signed an extension in the offseason through 2022-23 and, by the way, coached the Lakers to the 2020 title, said earlier this week he wasn’t focused on job security, and LeBron James offered a standard, "Criticism comes with the job, you know?"
"Frank is a strong-minded guy," James told reporters. "He has a great coaching staff. And we as his players have to do a better job of going out and producing on the floor. We’re a team and an organization that don’t mind some adversity, that don’t mind people saying things about us, obviously, because it comes with the territory."
With a $151 million roster and three players — LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and Anthony Davis — taking up $120.7 million, the coach is often the one who is the scapegoat.
Regardless if Vogel is fired, the Lakers’ problems go beyond coaching, a sentiment shared by multiple scouts who talked to USA TODAY Sports under anonymity because they were not authorized by their teams to speak publicly about the Lakers.
Roster construction is the biggest problem. In the offseason, the Lakers added Westbrook and traded Montrezl Harrell, Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in a five-team deal. They also lost Alex Caruso to Chicago in free agency.
The Lakers are No. 23 in offensive rating, No. 15 in defensive rating and 23rd in net rating, giving up 1.6 more points per 100 possessions than they score. They are 24th in turnover percentage and middle of the league in shooting and rebounding.
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Shooting, especially on 3-pointers, is a concern. The Lakers are 15th in 3-point shooting percentage, but 22nd in 3s made per game. They compensate for that with strong shooting inside the arc.
Davis’ numbers look fine on the surface at 24 points and 10.2 rebounds a game and 52.3% shooting from the field. But he’s shooting 19.2% on 3s, his lowest percentage in seven seasons, and is shooting 10 percentage points lower on shots inside the paint (non-restricted area) than he did last season. The Lakers also allow more points than they score per 100 possessions with Davis on the court.
Westbrook has been Russell Westbrook — gifted and entertaining with his energy, rebounding, passing and scoring but with average shooting. He’s not a difference-maker (yet) in this scenario.
James averages 25.5 points, 6.9 assists, 5.9 rebounds and 1.9 steals. His rebounds and assists are down compared to the past few seasons, but that’s not a surprise with Westbrook able to do both of things. Since James returned from an abdominal strain three weeks ago, he has scored 30 points four times with a triple-double and two double-doubles.
The Lakers still need James, who will turn 37 on Dec. 30, to carry them because Davis isn’t able to carry that responsibility right now.
This is a collective problem.
The Lakers have had one of the easier schedules to date, according to teamrankings.com, and one of the hardest remaining schedules, according to tankathon.com.
So what next?
Buss mentioned injuries, and yes, that is part of the equation. Early this week, the Lakers were second, behind only Orlando, in player games missed to injury at 96. James missed 10 games (one to suspension), Talen Horton-Tucker 13 games, and Kendrick Nunn and Trevor Ariza have yet to play this season.
The Lakers don’t have one five-man lineup that has played more than 53 minutes, and that lineup doesn’t include James. For perspective, Phoenix’s most-used lineup has played 292 minutes.
Los Angeles has used 12 different starting lineups with a roster of 12 new players, so it’s not unusual to call for some patience, as Buss did.
But the next 4-8 weeks will determine what kind of changes the Lakers make headed into the Feb. 10 trade deadline.
Maybe it’s a coaching change or a roster shakeup or both. But the status quo is not the answer with Golden State and Phoenix ruling the West.