If you’ve seen two Lakers games, you have likely seen them all.
One of them entails losing in embarrassing fashion because of a lack of effort and chemistry. Another one entails the Lakers showing their potential with LeBron James’ dominance and Russell Westbrook’s assertiveness.
Very rarely have the Lakers actually shown substantial progress. They just remain stagnant by taking one step backward and then one step forward. Rinse and repeat. No wonder plenty of Lakers fans send messages frequently either bemoaning the state of the team or holding out hope that somehow things will get better.
It’s no surprise that the trend continues with the NBA trade deadline nearly 2 1/2 weeks away. So let’s dig into the mailbag …
If you’re Rob Pelinka, what kind of deal do you make at the trade deadline? Can you even make a deal? Do you move Westbrook and a first-round pick for John Wall?
I don’t see how the Lakers move Westbrook and a first-round pick for Wall. One, the Lakers don’t have a first-round pick until 2027. Why would the Rockets wait five years? Two, the Rockets already traded Westbrook away for Wall. Why would they accept a mulligan when they correctly knew already Westbrook is not helpful for a rebuild?
No doubt, the Lakers’ top priority should involve trying to deal Westbrook. Even when you account for the Lakers’ overlapping injuries to LeBron James, Anthony Davis and a handful of role players, Westbrook was expected to be able to navigate those simply by producing consistently. That hasn’t happened enough. I trust that Westbrook will improve his play, but not seriously enough where he will become a more polished product consistently. The only problem: there is not a market for Westbrook’s high salary ($44 million) and pervasive weaknesses in his game. The next priority should entail Pelinka seeing what he can get for Deandre Jordan and Dwight Howard, but I don’t see a market for them either. The Lakers are more likely going to keep the roster as is because they don’t have enough assets to entice other teams to swipe right.
If we brought back last year’s team with the additions of Austin Reaves and Stanley Johnson, where do we stand?
No doubt, the Lakers’ success or failure would still hinge on a healthy and effective LeBron James and Anthony Davis. So in that case, the Lakers still would have struggled with overlapping injuries to James and Anthony. But the Lakers would not have fielded so many chemistry issues had they banked on continuity and retaining proven defensive players. Would that be enough to win an NBA title? Not definitively. But they wouldn’t be scratching and clawing just to stay above .500 this season. They would be among the top four teams in the Western Conference.
Here’s the thing that I ponder about Westbrook: say you have him at the peak of his powers and he’s your star player. What type of team do you build around him that’ll get the most out of him and win?
— Kamran Hameed
It’s a very tough question to answer. At the peak of Westbrook’s powers — when he was with the Oklahoma City Thunder — he wasn’t the team’s star power. That title belonged to Kevin Durant. They also had James Harden coming off the bench as a secondary scorer and Serge Ibaka as a dependable defender. But then Harden was dealt to Houston to expand both his role and max earnings, while the Thunder worried about luxury tax bills and a balanced roster. After that, it became clear that the Durant-Westbrook pairing wouldn’t work because Westbrook often got in Durant’s way, and the Thunder had no choice but to just rely on those two to carry the day.
Even in his prime, Westbrook can’t be the team’s star player because he has pervasive weaknesses as a shooter and defender. Even if he makes his teammates better with his playmaking, rebounding and intensity, Westbrook also gets in his own way with his erratic style of play. That’s why I always viewed him as most effective as a second option. The only problem, he is wired to be the main option even if he tries hard to adjust to his teammates around him.
I love Donovan Mitchell and the Utah Jazz. Can the Utah Jazz be a top team? Will Donovan stay with Utah? Will the Utah Jazz really change their name?
— Creighton Hoskin
I can answer one of those questions definitively. Utah won’t change its franchise’s name. Though the name originates from the New Orleans Jazz relocating to Salt Lake City in 1979, the Utah franchise is keeping its name. The brand is too strong, and the fanbase is too loyal.
I feel skeptical about Utah’s playoff chances. Most of it has to do with my respect for the Golden State Warriors, Phoenix Suns and Memphis Grizzlies. But some of it also has to do with my skepticism that the Jazz can carry their regular-season success into the playoffs. They failed to do it the past two seasons mostly because they don’t have a reliable wing defender to complement center Rudy Gobert. They have great offensive balance. They have amazing continuity. And they have great depth. But the NBA’s best teams have amazing wing defenders. And without one, the Jazz will be toast. Does that mean Mitchell will not want to stay in Utah? He bristled at that idea recently. He agreed to a five-year max extension before the beginning of the 2020-21 season. But in today’s NBA, all teams should assume that their star players will eventually lose patience if they fail to win an NBA title.
Hoops Around the World
We all know that the NBA has become a global brand and that basketball has become a global game. But what fuels your basketball fandom?
Got a good basketball story to tell? Write it up and send it my way. The best essays will be used in this feature throughout the season, such as this latest entry. We’d also love to see a photo of the hoop you play on, whether it be in your neighborhood gym or in the backyard of your driveway. Got a good image? Then pass along and we’ll feature it, including the dispatch below.
From Ivan Naufal in São Paulo, Brazil:
Just wanted to share a picture of the court where I play sometimes. I’ve got basketball all over my heart and soul, have been passionate about it since I was 11 (I’m 49 now) … I used to work as a broadcast producer, have covered the NBA Finals onsite in 1999 and 2000, the All-Star Game and also the Olympics, etc.
I named my younger son Dominique, after the one and only — my forever basketball hero.
Hope you like the picture.
* * *
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.