When the Los Angeles Lakers added Dwight Howard in the 2012-13 off-season, it was supposed to be the beginning of a new era. Howard came to the team around the same time that Steve Nash in pursuits of winning their first championship while giving Kobe Bryant his sixth.
The deal turned out to be a disaster for everyone involved.
Howard spurned the Lakers for the Houston Rockets in free agency after an embarrassing playoff loss. Kobe and Nash both suffered prime-ending injuries. The Lakers got themselves caught in a coaching triangle between Mike Brown, Phil Jackson, and Mike D’Antoni.
The team may not be filled with that much drama, but this season hasn’t been too far from it on the floor. Acquiring Russell Westbrook was seen as a similar move to bringing in Howard. Alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis, he was there to serve as a floor-raiser when the two all-stars couldn’t bring it. At this time, Westbrook is still finding his way.
Like those Howard/Bryant Lakers, the 2021-22 iteration is 9-10 after 18 games. Their offense has been a mess, and defensively, they can’t stop a nosebleed. Luckily, coach Frank Vogel has held on to the wheel as much as he can. But you can tell that he’s being worn down by the challenges so far, as he expressed after a 106-100 loss to the New York Knicks on Tuesday:
What part of this Frank Vogel quote on the Lakers' ongoing defensive transformation stands out to you? pic.twitter.com/tD9EuHVmQS— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) November 24, 2021
As much as it pains me to say, a big reason for the Lakers’ changes start with LeBron. After all, he conducted the pursuit of a third guy to pair with him and AD. Like in 2016-17 with the Cleveland Cavaliers, he went hunting for a playmaker.
This time around, they got one of the best, but he’s also one of the more polarizing. This isn’t to blame Westbrook, but it is to bring to light that the Lakers and James were fine with the possibility of these current struggles. As mentioned before, their identity went out the door after the Westbrook trade and free agency. All the hard-nosed defense and speed on the perimeter is gone.
The challenges, outside of injuries, remain for the Lakers to find something. Just what that something is harbors many questions. In both seasons where the Lakers and James pursued additional names to cover their holes, it didn’t result in a championship. We are trending in that direction. In a weird, but hopeful way, they’ll get some forms of change when healthy bodies are back. That’s the one thing that’s a huge difference than those other teams. The Lakers collection of injuries are legitimately their biggest detriment, and that includes LeBron himself.
Once everyone is on the floor though, they’ll need to prove me right.