As injuries mount for Lakers, pressure falls on Russell Westbrook to live up to offseason blockbuster

No matter how Russell Westbrook got here to be a Los Angeles Laker, the elemental motivation behind the commerce boiled down to 2 units of numbers. 

  • LeBron James has performed 5,979 regular-season minutes as a Laker, and the Lakers have outscored their opponents by 860 factors in that point. He has spent 5,323 minutes in that span both on the bench or out resulting from harm, and the Lakers have been outscored in these minutes by 386 factors. Each the Cavaliers (2,297 factors higher with James on the ground than off of it from 2015-2018) and Heat (2,402 factors higher with James on the ground than off of it from 2011-2014) skilled comparable swings. 
  • The Lakers are 112-61 in regular-season video games that James has performed in and 24-37 in video games James has missed. The Cavaliers went 4-23 with out James in his second Cleveland stint and 10-16 in his first. Even the vaunted Miami Warmth machine could not muster a file above .500 with out him as they went 9-9. 

All of this paints a reasonably easy image. Groups which have LeBron James are typically nice with LeBron James. Groups which have LeBron James are typically depressing with out LeBron James. You would possibly say that is true of most superstars, however consider the expertise that usually surrounds James. Cleveland received decimated even with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love taking part in with out LeBron. Miami barely held its personal with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. His affect on a crew’s taking part in type is so huge that even the NBA‘s greatest gamers wrestle to toggle between Jamesball and basketball. 

The Lakers skilled this firsthand over the previous two seasons. The 2019-20 supporting forged, even when not precisely by selection, emphasised capturing and protection. That construction’s main benefit was supporting James whereas he was on the courtroom, and even when the Lakers suffered within the comparatively jiffy they spent with out him, the core group was so sturdy with him within the sport that they managed to win a championship. The 2020-21 roster was designed much less for the minutes James performed and extra for the minutes he missed. Dennis Schroder and Montrezl Harrell had been presupposed to elevate the offense in James-less minutes. The thought was that the Lakers couldn’t solely relaxation James extra inside video games with out worry of getting dominated in these minutes, however that they may freely sit him out of extra video games realizing that they would not essentially be assured to lose all of them. Maintaining James wholesome for crucial video games was finally what counted. The plan failed. James did miss video games. Schroder and Harrell could not compensate for that. The match was messy even when everybody was out there. 

That left the Lakers with a option to make this previous offseason. They may revert again to the 2020 system by buying and selling for Buddy Hield, and within the course of, saving sufficient towards the luxurious tax to retain Alex Caruso and another departed function gamers. Or, they may double down on the 2021 system by taking it to a brand new excessive. As an alternative of two good function gamers meant to elevate the James-less offense, they opted for a star in Westbrook. His match with James was even tougher to fathom given his ball dominance and capturing woes, however given his age and the accidents LeBron had endured in his first three seasons in purple and gold, the Lakers selected the latter. They selected to maximise their probabilities of having a wholesome LeBron within the playoffs somewhat than maximizing their upside with a wholesome LeBron within the playoffs. 

In fact, all of this necessitates really attending to the playoffs. This was one of many chief theoretical advantages of including Westbrook. When James wanted to sit down with accidents like, say, stomach strains, the Lakers felt as if he could be sufficient to hold them to sufficient wins that they would not must rush their greatest participant again onto the ground. LeBron’s present absence is, in that sense, precisely what the Lakers acquired Westbrook for. 

That is what makes two losses to an Oklahoma City Thunder crew that’s at the moment winless towards all opponents apart from the Lakers so discouraging. The Lakers acquired Westbrook for these actual moments. A lot of his worth was supposed to return in profitable video games like these on random regular-season Tuesday nights so James might relaxation and keep wholesome for the postseason. But in two video games towards the NBA’s worst crew, the Lakers have blown 26-point and 19-point leads for 2 of the worst losses of the season. You possibly can solely rack up so lots of these earlier than playoff positioning, particularly in a world with the play-in spherical, turns into genuinely distressing. 

James is anticipated to overlook a minimum of per week. Anthony Davis is at the moment questionable for Saturday’s sport towards the Portland Trail Blazers with a sprained proper thumb. Trevor Ariza, Kendrick Nunn and Talen Horton-Tucker are nonetheless out. The Lakers certainly could not have deliberate for this diploma of poor well being so early within the season, however the standings aren’t forgiving to poor circumstances. Each loss the Lakers rack up now counts simply as a lot as one they accumulate at full power. Westbrook is the final wholesome star standing. If the Lakers are going to make it by means of James’ absence with out dashing him again and risking additional harm, they’ll want him to hold them to some wins. 

Doing so now could be going to show vital because the season progresses. The Lakers opened with the season with one of many easier schedules in current reminiscence. Seven of their first 9 video games had been at residence, and after Saturday’s sport in Portland, so are their subsequent 5. Three of the 4 opponents the Lakers are slated to face within the subsequent week are at .500 or under. Even with a depleted supporting forged, these are video games that the Lakers have to have the ability to win. The schedule will not be so forgiving down the road when the Lakers begin to play extra highway video games towards contenders. The Lakers knew that Westbrook’s match alongside James could be awkward. They wager on him anyway partly due to what they knew he might be with out him. Now it is time for him to show it. | As accidents mount for Lakers, stress falls on Russell Westbrook to reside as much as offseason blockbuster


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