The Lakers and their lack of chemistry this past season

Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

Look, if you have LeBron James and Anthony Davis on your team, you’re going to automatically have a head start on a championship ahead of nearly all the NBA. But still, it’s a team game. The Lakers were going to need more than just those two and their generational talents to win this season. And sure, the Lakers’ early exit this 2020-21 season can be attributed to one word — injuries.

But still, even with LeBron James and Anthony Davis having nearly two months of injuries overlap with each other, I think most Lakers fans could admit that there was even more reasoning as to why this team couldn’t get past the Phoenix Suns in the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs.

In situations that are just far too fitting for this age of social media, it’s becoming all too apparent that the Lakers’ chemistry this season paled in comparison to their chemistry in the 2019-20 season.

The other day, Andre Drummond responded to some comments on his Instagram that dealt with the lack of minutes he had towards the end of the playoffs. His comments threw some serious shade at Frank Vogel and his choices with Drummond’s minutes, as Drummond insinuated that he could play as well as Deandre Ayton and Brook Lopez in these 2021 NBA Playoffs if he would have only received the minutes to do so (I don’t have the time to write an article about how wild that comment is).

Montrezl Harrell continued the trend within the Lakers frontcourt (maybe Marc Gasol is on deck), again tossing some passive criticism towards Frank Vogel within an Instagram comment reply you can see above (h/t HisAndHersLakers on Twitter). Again, I don’t have the time to write an article about how he says “that shit isn’t real” about matchups affecting coaching decisions…in…the…NBA.

You don’t need to look further than the 2019-20 Lakers roster for a frontcourt’s far different response to coaches’ rotation choices. JaVale McGee started for the team all season, totaling 16.6 minutes per game. In the playoffs, he only averaged 9.6 minutes per game with zero appearances in the six games of the 2020 NBA Finals. Dwight Howard saw his minutes per game drop slightly from 18.9 to 15.7 between the regular season and playoffs, but his role fluctuated wildly within them. He actually did not play for games two, three, and four of the Western Conference semi-finals against the Rockets, following that up with much-needed defense from him in the next round against Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets. He played over 20 minutes in two of the games against the Nuggets (including the closing game five where he played 35 minutes) but again saw his minutes drop again in the NBA Finals highlighted by a near non-appearance in the closing game six if it weren’t for the Lakers beating up on the Heat so bad.

There were never any disgruntled quotes from the two even though they had ample opportunities with the media to do so in between games. This was most likely due to the unified mindset between the players, coaching staff, and front office on top of the fact that everyone seemed to really like each other. McGee even put out a warning before the playoffs started, saying the following (h/t Harrison Faigen of Silver Screen & Roll):

“I feel like the team chemistry has only elevated because we’re forced to hang out together every day… It’s definitely going to show on the court during the playoffs.”

And if you needed any more proof that McGee and Howard accepted their roles with smiling faces, well, here they are smiling and having fun while receiving nearly no playing time against the Rockets.

Now, obviously, it’s easier to smile and enjoy yourself on the bench when the team is winning championships. Maybe Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee would have had similar reactions if the team were to have lost in the first round like Drummond and Harrell’s Lakers. But still, we already have heard negative comments regarding the team’s chemistry in comparison to the Suns’ chemistry from Kyle Kuzma as he said the following to Shams Charania and Stadium during their Finals preview:

When we played them, I think the biggest thing that stood out was that they had much more chemistry than us. They did a great job of just playing together, having fun out there, talking to each other, just really communicating on a championship level. Obviously, knowing what it takes to win a championship, you need communication, you need that chemistry. I think that’s something that just stuck out to me.

It’s an interesting contrast to all of the Lakers players and their glowing quotes last year about the team’s chemistry. Danny Green once spoke about how not many teams in his career could compare to the chemistry seen between he and his Lakers teammates last season. Rob Pelinka noted before the bubble even began that the Lakers would have an advantage over teams through their “strong togetherness component”. Before it was even decided that the season could resume in light of COVID-19, Jared Dudley expressed that the team’s chemistry was “phenomenal” and that there were “literally no beefs, no cliques” between the players and staff on the team.

Sure, things are going to be a little sour after a first-round exit with a season that had high expectations. But still, I don’t think Lakers fans expected this type of shade being through around publicly.

As Rob Pelinka and the front office decide how to restructure this team to return to the NBA Finals, hopefully he considers the factor that seemingly may have been the biggest reason for the Lakers winning in 2020 (other than those LeBron James and Anthony Davis guys).

All statistics are from or Basketball Reference.

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