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Los Angeles Lakers basketball on the brink as NBA season draws to conclusion

Vincent Frank

It’s not a secret that the Los Angeles Lakers have been among the most-disappointing teams throughout the 2021-22 NBA season.

Point guard Russell Westbrook appears to be one-and-done in Southern California. Head coach Frank Vogel will be out of a job short of a shocking run in the NBA Playoffs. There’s been a rumored rift between star forward LeBron James and the front office. Meanwhile, All-Star Anthony Davis remains sidelined to yet another injury.

These are the backdrops for a Lakers team that currently sits at 30-41 and as the 10th seed in the Western Conference.

With less than dozen games remaining before the end of the regular season, things are hitting a boiling point in Southern California.

“I thought we played long stretches of tonight’s game the right way with confidence from last night’s performance. But this group has to learn how to win. They have to learn how to win together.”

Los Angeles Lakers head coach Frank Vogel after Saturday’s loss to the Washington Wizards

A team that’s two seasons removed from the NBA title and boasts one of the top-five players in NBA history shouldn’t have “to learn how to win.” That’s one of the overriding points in Southen California with dramatic changes potentially looming.

Related: Los Angeles Lakers schedule and predictions

Los Angeles Lakers have 11 games to prove themselves

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Washington Wizards
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Starting Monday evening, Los Angeles has 10 games against teams with legitimate playoff aspirations. It’s not going to be an easy run for Frank Vogel and Co.

  • @ Cleveland Cavaliers (41-30)
  • Philadelphia 76ers (43-27)
  • @ Dallas Mavericks (43-28)
  • @ Utah Jazz (45-26)
  • Denver Nuggets (42-30)
  • @ Phoenix Suns (58-14)
  • @ Golden State Warriors (47-24)
  • @ Denver Nuggets (42-30)

For a team that has dropped recent games against lackluster opponents such as the Washington Wizards, Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs and Portland Trail Blazers, this seems to be a fruitless endeavor.

Related: Los Angeles Lakers standing in our NBA power rankings

Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Playoffs? It seems highly unlikely

los angeles lakers playoffs? not so fast
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Taking into account their brutal closing schedule and the current Western Conference standings, the Lakers’ ceiling is a spot in the play-in tournament.

Currently, Los Angeles is only 2.5 games ahead of the San Antonio Spurs for the 10th seed and the final play-in spot. It is also already eliminated from a top-six seed, which means LA will not be able to avoid the play-in tournament.

If the season were to end today, these Lakers would be going up against the Denver Nuggets in the play-in that would be single elimination for King James and Co. Boasting a 9-22 record in its past 31 games, Los Angeles seems to be dead in the water.

This very same 31-game span has seen the Lakers sport a 5-14 mark against teams with a winning record. In fact, the Lakers are 12-27 against like opponents throughout the 2021-22 season.

Related: Top 2022 NBA free agents

Wholesale offseason changes coming for the Los Angeles Lakers

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Washington Wizards
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

General manager Rob Pelinka attempted to deal Russell Westbrook ahead of the February 10 NBA trade deadline. For the Lakers’ brass, it only took 56 games to realize that the former NBA MVP was not going to be fit in with this iteration of the team.

Even after being unable to trade Westbrook, reports surfaced that a return next season is “impossible.”

Given how Westbrook has played this season, it’s a foregone conclusion that he will opt into said deal. Whether Los Angeles has the assets to entice a team into taking on Westbrook’s contract remains to be seen. At the very least, we could be looking at the Lakers cutting their losses and buying him out.

James and Davis spearheaded the movement to acquire veteran talent in free agency last summer. It’s one of the reasons Los Angeles’ brass opted to stand pat at the NBA trade deadline rather than yield future assets in deals that wouldn’t have moved the needle too much.

In addition to Westbrook, there’s a whole slew of regressing Lakers veterans set to hit free agency this coming summer.

Los Angeles Lakers free agents

  • Avery Bradley
  • Kendrick Nunn
  • Wayne Ellington
  • Trevor Ariza
  • Dwight Howard
  • Carmelo Anthony
  • Kent Bazemore
  • Malik Monk
  • Stanley Johnson

Regardless of the Westbrook situation, any supporting cast behind LeBron James and Anthony Davis is going to look vastly different next season. That’s just basic math.

Related: Top candidates to replace Frank Vogel in Los Angeles

Frank Vogel coaching for his job

los angeles lakers to fire frank vogel
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Look at it through this lens. Since leading Los Angeles to the NBA title in 2019-20, Vogel has posted a 72-71 record as their head coach.

Short of the Lakers finding a way past the play-in tournament and then somehow unseating the Phoenix Suns in Round 1, Vogel is a goner.

Once that happens, attention turns to who might replace him on the bench. Will Los Angeles continue to give King James some power over the hiring process? If not, what will that mean for LeBron’s future in Southern California?

The LeBron James, Anthony Davis dynamic

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Los Angeles Lakers
Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports

When James signed with Los Angeles ahead of the 2018-19 season, most figured he’d retire as a member of the team. The idea was for the four-time NBA champion to increase his presence in Hollywood while playing for one of the most historical and recognizable brands in the Association.

We’re no longer 100% sure this is going to be the case. James, 37, is set to become a free agent following the 2022-23 season. The future Hall of Famer has also indicated that he’d like to play with his son, Bronny, should the younger James make it to the NBA.

In addition to roster construction this summer, a potential LeBron James contract extension will be noteworthy for the Los Angeles Lakers. If it does not happen, the likelhood of him departing in free agency following the 2022-23 season increases.

As for AD, he’s played in a total of 73 games over the past two seasons and remains sidelined to a foot injury. There’s been some rumors coming from Southern California that the Lakers might simply look to trade Davis this summer and attempt to find James a new running partner.

Despite his injury history, a number of teams looking to gain relevance on the broader NBA stage would have interest in th All-Star. That could be one of the major roster turnovers in the cards this summer for Los Angeles.

Either way we spin it, this current iteration of the Lakers has 11 regular-season games remaining. That’s not even debatable. Rather, what we see from this team moving forward will tell us just how massive the changes will be once the calendar hits summer time.

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