Road to Revival: Lakers better suited to reality TV than NBA season

The Los Angeles Lakers burst into flames to end the 2021-22 season, waving the white flag en route to a dull 33-49 record. After a dramatic season that rivaled “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” Purple and Gold fans hoped — and deserved — to see semblance of winning product with training camp around the corner.

However, an offseason of head-scratching from the front office made it clear that the team was more committed to being a reality show than flying banners in the arena.

So, ladies and gentlemen, grab your popcorn because Season 2 of Keeping Up with the Lakers is just weeks away.

Taking center stage is everyone’s favorite celebrity Russell Westbrook — the show’s Kim Kardashian, if you will. All signs pointed to a nasty but much-needed split between the two parties at the end of the season, sealed and shaped by his aloof exit interview.

When asked if LeBron James and Anthony Davis would let him be himself on the floor, Westbrook scoffed, claiming, “That wasn’t true. Let’s face it…I was never given a fair chance to just be who I needed to be to help this team.”

With an inevitable breakup on the horizon, general manager Rob Pelinka bought Westbrook and his $47 million expiring contract through the offseason. Hardly a week went by without a new trading rumor surfaced. Gordon Hayward? Kyrie Irving? buddy hero? Myles Turner? Bojan Bogdanovic? Westbrook had probably packed his bags and was really looking forward to his new destination.

Every general manager was aware of the tire fire that had taken place within the Lakers organization during the season. With the apparent knowledge that the Lakers had backed themselves into a corner, the leverage was to juice the organization of all of their assets, namely their first-round draft picks in 2027 and 2029.

With offers on the table and a chance to take responsibility for what might be the worst trade in Lakers history, the front office decided to shift the blame to LeBron’s sports agency and stay put. Pelinka chose to scale it back with a formula already proven to have failed, prioritizing two future first-round picks likely right now in their early teens over a generational talent in LeBron James entering his 20th season.

Currently a few days into training camp, it’s clear Westbrook will be a Laker this season. So how can the organization maximize the 33-year-old’s skills while making sure the former All-Star isn’t a hindrance to their success?

For starters, it’s important to create an environment in which Westbrook feels comfortable, surrounded by teammates he’s willing to fight for. So Pelinka scoured the market and traded 21-year-old Talen Horton-Tucker, whom LeBron previously dubbed “HIM,” for…Patrick Beverly? *checks notes* That can’t be right!

Beverly and Westbrook have notoriously had beef since the 2013 season, when Westbrook suffered a season-ending knee injury at the hands of Beverly in the first round of the playoffs.

Since the game, which Westbrook described as “dirty,” the two have repeatedly feuded during their on-court matchups over the past nine years while snapping at each other during press conferences. That grudge eventually spawned one of the most iconic quotes and memes of all time. After a regular-season matchup between the two, Westbrook told the media, “Pat Bev is tricking you all, man, like he’s playing defense. He’s not guarding anyone, man. He just walks around and does nothing.”

Westbrook better hopes Beverly doesn’t trick anyone since the two are wearing purple and gold and will most likely be laying minutes on the floor together. Whether or not this pairing leads to wins, one thing is certain: it makes for fantastic theatre.

But Beverly is just one player in a squad of 15 players. In a wing-driven league, surrounding Westbrook with long wings who can play defense and shoot the long ball could be a recipe for success. So Pelinka scoured the free agent market and took…two non-shooting wings?

Troy Brown Jr. and Juan Toscano-Anderson, albeit long, 6-foot-6 forwards, are neither proven marksmen nor primary defenders. The Lakers front office also opted to bring back Dennis Schroder after he failed to perform in the first round of the 2021 playoffs in his first round with the Lakers, as his fit with Westbrook was chunky at best.

With Westbrook, Beverly, Schroder, the returning Austin Reaves, newly signed Lonnie Walker IV and a finally healthy Kendrick Nunn, that crowded backcourt is just one of the many ingredients that could take the Lakers down a flight of stairs to the riot.

Almost like trying to stick a square peg in a round hole, the Lakers will do the Westbrook experiment once again. But, to put it in the wise words of Kris Jenner, “If you feel like something’s really wrong, it’s usually wrong.”

Sahil Karup is a sophomore writing about the Los Angeles Lakers and the endless drama that follows them. His Road to Revival column runs every other Friday.

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