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NBA Mailbag: Running out of time, Lakers fans need answers now

The state of the Lakers, a query about pick swaps and more are discussed as Mark Medina answers your NBA questions.

Would moving Russell Westbrook to the bench help fix what ails the Lakers?

It’s no longer being ignored or whispered. As ESPN first reported, Lakers coach Frank Vogel and his staff have talked about bringing Russell Westbrook off the bench.

“We’ve talked about everything,” Vogel said.

The Lakers haven’t moved Westbrook to a reserve role yet. But as they try to stay afloat in the Play-In picture, anything is possible.

Let’s dig into this week’s NBA Mailbag to answer that question and others.

For future mailbags, send your question to me through email or Twitter.

What will it take for Russell Westbrook to come off the bench and be effective in that role?

— @Sir_Carlos_XV

The numbers show that Westbrook has been more productive this season when playing without LeBron James (21.4 points, 8.6 assists and 8.1 rebounds per game over 17 games). But in reality, bringing Westbrook off the bench likely wouldn’t make much of a difference.

It comes down to consistency, and for most of the 2021-22 season, Westbrook (and his teammates) have been wildly inconsistent. The Lakers have experimented with staggering Westbrook’s minutes, both with his star teammates and without them, and they have featured him on and off the ball. But none of that experimenting has yielded a great result.

The Lakers’ biggest issue right now is the calendar. With less than 20 games remaining, they have a lot to figure out in a short amount of time.

Is it wrong to make Russell Westbrook the face of the Lakers' frustrating season?

For the Lakers, which year is a bigger disappointment: 2012-13 or this season?

— Jordan Wong

It’s an interesting question because there are so many parallels. Too many injuries to star and role players, alike. A handful of All-Star players struggling to find their place. Head-coaching and front-office scrutiny.

I would answer this two ways:

The Lakers of 2012-13 were more disappointing because they had a much better roster than this current group. Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace still had a championship window. Steve Nash appeared to be the team’s answer at point guard. Dwight Howard appeared to be the star in waiting, a player seemingly capable of carrying the franchise after Bryant’s eventual retirement. But those Lakers never blossomed.

Nash broke his leg in only the second game and missed nearly half the season. The team fired Mike Brown following a 1-4 start. They flirted with a Phil Jackson return before hiring Mike D’Antoni to oversee a roster that did not fit his system, which was predicated on a quick pace and lots of 3-pointers. Howard developed a back problem. D’Antoni failed to get the best out of Gasol. Bryant carried the team through sheer will and talent only to tear his left Achilles tendon just before the playoffs started.

The disappointing season ended in a first-round loss to the San Antonio Spurs. And that led to one of the worst stretches in franchise history. After recovering from his injury, Bryant was never the same player. Neither was Gasol. Nash limped toward retirement. And Howard bolted to Houston as a free agent.

Take a look back at the Lakers' top 10 plays from the 2012-13 season.

Nonetheless, that 2012-13 team was still much better than this current Lakers squad. For all the flaws the Lakers had a decade ago, they still went 28-12 to close out the regular season. Bryant and Gasol ran the offense as they saw fit. Nash adjusted as an off-ball shooter. And Howard improved both his health and attitude. The Lakers’ run only collapsed when Bryant was injured.

As for this current team? They have been mediocre all season. They have failed to establish any continuity amid overlapping injuries and lineup changes. Just like Nash in 2012-13, Anthony Davis has struggled to stay healthy. Just like Howard, Westbrook has struggled to accept and thrive in his new role.

And just like Bryant, LeBron James has played as if he were still in his prime. But unlike the 2012-13 Lakers, James’ brilliance has not been enough for the team to cement the needed consistency to secure a definitive playoff seed.

Do these Lakers seem destined for the Play-In Tournament?

Could you clear up just how a pick-swap operates?  For the sake of what I’m getting at I’ll use a real-world scenario.

  • The New Orleans Pelicans have swap rights with the Lakers for their 2023 first-round pick (unprotected). 
  • The 76ers currently own their 2023 first-round pick with no strings attached.
  • The 76ers also currently own their 2026 first-round pick with no strings attached.

If the Pelicans believe that, this season, they’ll finish 26th overall, the Lakers will finish 20th and the 76ers will finish fourth, then the first-round swap is useless to the Pelicans — but it could be very valuable to the 76ers.   

Here’s my question:  Can the Pelicans trade the Lakers’ swap rights to the 76ers in exchange for the 76ers’ 2026 draft pick (protected No. 1-8)? I can’t find anywhere that swap rights are permanently binding to the team that received the swap rights. Another way to ask is “When swap rights are traded, are they binding to the team that received them or can they be passed to another team?” 

— Jason Cavey, Kalona, Iowa

Great and smart question, Jason. I speak for many other NBA writers that often get lost in the weeds on salary cap and collective bargaining minutia. No wonder we often consult Larry Coon, the author of the CBA FAQ and the general manager of the Sports Business Classroom. Below is Coon’s response:

“Swap rights are bound to the pick and can’t be traded to a different team without trading the pick itself. Swap rights say (to use your example) the Pelicans can swap their 2023 first round pick with the Lakers’ 2023 pick. If the Pelicans trade the swap rights to the Sixers without trading their pick itself, it’d be like saying the Sixers can swap the Pelicans’ pick with the Lakers even though they don’t actually possess the Pelicans’ pick. That wouldn’t make any sense.

You might be thinking that it would give the Sixers the right to swap their own pick with the Lakers’ pick. But the Lakers did the deal in the first place knowing (within reason) how many positions they were likely to lose in the 2023 draft if the Pelicans made the swap. If the swap changes over to the Sixers’ pick, it’d be like changing the terms of the deal after the fact. That’s why the swap rights can’t be extricated from the specific pick.

The only allowable deal is to trade the pick along with the swap rights. That way the Sixers would get the Pelicans’ pick, and with it, the right to swap it for the Lakers’ pick.”

NBA Trivia

On March 2, 1962, Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in a single NBA game, a number that has become iconic in pro sports and in sports culture.

Question: Who was the Philadelphia Warriors’ second-leading scorer that night? 

Answer at the bottom

Listen to the radio call of the 4th quarter from Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game.

Miami was almost called for a five-second violation while inbounding the ball at the end of their recent game against Milwaukee. In today’s game where a millisecond can decide a game, why does the NBA still rely on an official’s manual counting of the time?  Can’t they use an official timer for inbounds play or free-throw shooting? On a side note, Giannis sometimes takes more than 10 seconds to shoot a free throw.

— Jigs Baltazar, the Philippines

I forwarded your inquiry to the NBA and in return I got the following explanation:

“The NBA is constantly evaluating ways to improve officiating, including exploration of technologies that could help officials make calls faster and more accurately. There have been a number of technological changes in recent years, including numerous advances in the replay center, and we expect that additional technologies will continue to be deployed in the coming years.”

On top of that, I would also add my two cents. I understand your frustration with how in-bound calls are made. The league officials do their best, and often make the correct calls. But obviously they’re human, and we all make mistakes. Pertaining to inbounds calls, there is certainly a gray area on determining when the clock should start. Should it count when the player first touches the ball, or when the player has two hands on the ball or something else? Sometimes when a player gets the ball, officials have to intervene to tell a defender to back away from the out-of-bounds line as well.

Game Recap: Bucks 120, Heat 119

Trivia answer: Al Attles


NBA Digital Sr. Analyst Mark Medina will be answering questions each week in his NBA Mailbag.

How can you participate? Simply email your question to Mark here, or use your Twitter account and get your question to him here.