The creaky, mediocre Los Angeles Lakers should have seen this coming

Russell Westbrook and Frank Vogel have taken an outsized share of the blame for the Lakers’ struggles, but maybe the composition of this team was doomed from the jump

At 37 years old, LeBron James is having one of the best seasons of his 18-year NBA career.

The Los Angeles Lakers star is averaging 28.8 points (his most since 2009-10), 7.6 rebounds and 6.4 assists in 33 games this season, shooting 51.7% from the field, 36.4% from three and 75.4% from the free-throw line, all above his career averages. After a relatively slow start and then an abdominal injury that sidelined him for eight games, James has been an MVP-level player over his last 15 games, averaging 33/9/6 on 53/37/75 shooting splits with 1.5 steals and 1.3 blocks.

And yet his Lakers – who entered the season as title contenders and who are 15 months removed from winning an NBA championship – are 22-23 on the season, including 6-9 over that same stretch. They currently rank eighth in the Western Conference standings, firmly in the play-in tournament if the season were to end today.

Worse than that, the Lakers are experiencing internal strife, with head coach Frank Vogel reportedly on the hot seat fighting for his job, and the stubbornly proud Russell Westbrook being benched down the stretch of their most recent home loss to the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday night.

Vogel explained his benching of Westbrook as: “Playing the guys that I thought were going to win the game.” And Westbrook said he was “disappointed” by the decision but remains determined to figure it out with the Lakers, saying, “I’ve done everything that’s been asked of me here, and I’ll continue to do so and ride this out as long as we can toward our ultimate goal – and that’s to win a championship.”

But are Vogel and Westbrook actually at fault for the Lakers’ struggles this season? Or was the composition of this team doomed from the start?

To be fair, the Lakers are missing 28-year-old big man Anthony Davis, who has missed 15 games and counting with a sprained MCL in his left knee but could return as soon as this week. But it’s not like the Lakers were world-beaters before Davis’ injury, going 13-14 with Davis in the lineup this season as he struggled to shoot the ball (17.9% from three) and provide the requisite spacing for James and Westbrook to co-exist.

Clearly, the Lakers’ problems go beyond injuries or bouts with Covid-19, which every NBA team has dealt with this season. In reality, the problems date back to the offseason, when the Lakers front office – led by general manager Rob Pelinka and no doubt advised by (assistant GM) LeBron James – made a number of questionable decisions that culminated in the roster being ill-fitting and the players being by far the oldest in the league, with an average age of 30.0.