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Los Angeles Lakers Lost Many Young Talents To Go All-In With LeBron James: Was It Worth It To Win The 2020 Title?

Los Angeles Lakers Lost Many Young Talents To Go All-In With LeBron James: Was It Worth It To Win The 2020 Title?

The Lakers, 31-45, have struggled throughout the 2021-22 season and could legitimately miss the NBA’s play-in tournament. Anthony Davis has been in and out of the lineup suffering from varying injuries, Kendrick Nunn has failed to suit up this year with a bone bruise in his knee, and LeBron James has missed significant time with his own issues. There isn’t a single NBA organization that could find meaningful success, as their three best players miss extended stretches of game time. Still, the Purple and Gold’s recent inability to win against sub .500 squads, the Rockets, Thunder, and Trail Blazers, has shone a bright light on just how depleted their 2021-22 roster has become.

The Lakers have lost a truckload of talent throughout the last five years. In the place of solid mid-20s players like Brandon Ingram, D’Angelo Rusell, or Julius Randle, fans and NBA experts have watched veterans Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, Trevor Ariza, and Russell Westbrook flounder on offense and play like they're trudging through a swamp on defense. It’s hard not to wonder if the Purple and Gold made the right decision in moving on from their young players in exchange for the 2020 title.

Below we’ll break down the Lakers’ front office moves over the previous five years and decide if their 2021-22 predicament is worth a single championship.


A Lot Of Talented Players Left The Lakers Since 2017

The Los Angeles Lakers began unloading their young talent by trading D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov to the Brooklyn Nets during the summer of 2017 in exchange for Brook Lopez and the draft rights to Kyle Kuzma. The Purple and Gold’s cap sheet was shackled by Mozgov’s league-worst contract, and they had no choice but to deal their gifted young point guard. D’Angelo made the 2019 All-Star team, averaging 21.1 PPG, 7.0 APG, 3.9 RPG, and 1.2 SPG. He’s currently a member of the 43-34 Timberwolves and has been a significant reason for their 2021-22 playoff push.

The Lakers renounced the rights to Julius Randle during the summer of 2018, making him an unrestricted free agent after he went to GM Rob Pelinka and expressed interest in leaving the bright lights of Hollywood. Randle signed a two-year deal with the Pelicans before joining the Knicks. He averaged 24.1 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 6.0 APG, and 41.1 3P% for NY 2020-21 and was named to his first All-Star team, although his three-point shooting and overall play this season have regressed.

Things didn’t go to plan for the Lakers after signing LeBron James in free agency during the 2018 offseason. LBJ suffered the first significant injury of his career, and the Purple and Gold struggled through the first part of the season. GM Rob Pelinka made one of the worst trades of the season, a desperate Hail Mary, trading young and promising center Ivica Zubac to the Clippers for Mike Muscala. Zubac is an integral part of the Clippers’ rotation as their starting center, while Muscala played 17 games for the Lakers, averaging 5.9 PPG, before leaving for the Thunder.

Two days after dealing Zubac to the Clippers, GM Rob Pelinka made his second questionable 2018 mid-season trade, sending Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. to the Cavs for Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye, and a first-round draft pick. Jordan Clarkson struggled in Cleveland before finding a home in Utah as their Sixth Man of the Year. Nance supplied his typical hard-nosed, 110% defense and rim running for the Cavs before going to Portland and recently, New Orleans. Isaiah Thomas played 17 games for the Lakers, shooting 38.3% from the field, and Channing Frye suited up for only nine contests.

During the summer of 2019, the Lakers sent Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram, the draft rights to De’Andre Hunter, two first-round picks, and a first-round pick swap to the Pelicans for Anthony Davis. The Lakers lost a mountain of talent in this trade. Brandon Ingram made the All-Star team in his first year with the Pelicans, averaging 23.8 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 4.2 APG, and 39.1% from deep. He hasn’t made the mid-season classic since, but his numbers have held steady, and at a before-his-prime 24-years-old, he’s still dripping with top-20 potential. Lonzo Ball reclaimed his shooting stroke after leaving the Lakers and is now one of the top long-distance marksmen in the league as the Chicago Bulls’ two-way point guard. Josh Hart was recently traded from New Orleans to the Trail Blazers, and he’s taken advantage of his first actual shot to create on offense, averaging 19.9 PPG while shooting 37.3% from deep in Portland. De’Andre Hunter has proven to be an excellent 3-and-D wing for the Hawks, pouring in 13.5 PPG off 37.5% from beyond the arc this season. At the same time, Anthony Davis helped the Lakers hang a banner during his first season in La La Land, but over the last two seasons, he’s found himself constantly sidelined with one injury after another.

During the 2021 offseason, the Purple and Gold traded Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell, and the 22nd pick in the draft to the Wizards for Russell Westbrook. Kyle Kuzma (the only young and talented player the Lakers lost in this trade) has averaged 17.1 PPG and 8.5 RPG while playing excellent inside-out defense for Washington. Westbrook has played awful for the Lakers. He’s arguably the league’s worst shooter, he leads the NBA in total turnovers, and he’s played lazy and unintelligent defense.

The Lakers also let super-defender Alex Caruso move on to the Chicago Bulls during the 2021 offseason, choosing to re-up Talen Horton-Tucker instead. Carushow has played top-10 perimeter defense for the Bulls while THT has blended an awful 26.8% three-point stroke with a -0.3 Defensive Box Plus/Minus.


Do The Lakers Regret Their Decision To Trade Their Depth And Go All-In With LeBron James?

No.

No, from atop a mountain!!!!!

The Lakers might not be happy with their current record, but they don’t regret going all-in for a title in 2020.

Quick question: How many active NBA organizations have never won a championship?

11 teams — the Pacers, Hornets, Nets, Grizzlies, Jazz, Suns, Pelicans, Clippers, Nuggets, Magic, and Timberwolves — have never brought home a title. That’s 36% of the league.

If you’re an NBA fan, you know it’s nearly impossible to win a title, while at the same time, the only thing that matters is claiming a chip, a situation that creates a world of pain and suffering for almost everyone involved. Long-suffering Pacers, Clippers, Magic, Suns, and Jazz diehards would kill for a chip.

When an organization has a legitimate chance to hang a banner, they have no choice but to make it happen. In Los Angeles, where its title-or-bust to the third power, Lakers management had to swing for the clichéd fences.

The Purple and Gold hadn’t won a championship in ten years, not since Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol teamed up to take down the Boston Celtics in 2010. Kobe kept the Lakers competitive in 2011 and 2012, but after he tore his Achilles at the end of the 2012-13 season, the Lakers floundered into dreadfulness, as fans in Hollywood stopped coming to Staples Center.

Here’s a breakdown:

2013-14 Lakers: 27-55 (8th out of 30 teams in attendance)

2014-15 Lakers: 21-61 (11th out of 30 teams in attendance)

2015-16 Lakers: 17-65 (11th out of 30 teams in attendance)

2016-17 Lakers: 26-56 (11th out of 30 teams in attendance)

2017-18 Lakers: 35-47 (10th out of 30 teams in attendance)

2018-19 Lakers: 37-45 (10th out of 30 teams in attendance)

The NBA’s premier franchise suffered through seven years of complete misery. Then in 2020, the Lakers won the title, and despite how the coronavirus wreaked havoc across America, 588,907 total fans came to Staples to soak in LBJ and AD’s greatness.

What Is More Important: Winning A Title? Or Accumulating Draft Picks and Good Young Players?

It’s great when an organization accumulates a bucket of draft picks or builds a solid young core of potential All-Stars. Still, what’s more important; acquiring assets or winning a title?

The Philadelphia 76ers haven’t won a championship in nearly 40 years (1983). They’ve flowed from one “process” to the next over the last four decades, hoping to hang a banner like the Lakers in 2020. This season the 76ers have an MVP candidate in Joel Embiid. Still, things are spinning sideways in the City of Brotherly Love after Doc Rivers called out recent import James Harden to the media for his play during Philadelphia’s ugly loss to the lowly Pistons. The 76ers have lost three in a row and look like a discombobulated mess with little chance to beat well-oiled Eastern Conference machines like the Bucks and Heat have built.

The Chicago Bulls haven’t won a title since 1998. They’ve constructed some solid teams over the last couple of decades, and they even made the Eastern Conference Finals in 2011 before losing to the Miami Heat in five games. Chicago has an excellent 2021-22 squad featuring All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine. Despite the Bulls’ recent uptick this season, they’re in fifth place out east, championship long shots that would break the internet if they managed to win it all.

The Boston Celtics are one of the best-run organizations in the NBA. They’ve amassed a truckload of draft picks over the last five years and have the best defense in 2021-22. Unfortunately, their Defensive Player of the Year candidate, Robert Williams, recently suffered a torn meniscus, sidelining him at least until the middle of the playoffs. The Celtics were counting on Williams to cover Eastern Conference All-Stars Joel Embiid, Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Bam Adebayo during the playoffs. Now, without the means to stymie the league’s best big men, their championship hopes are all but done for the season. Boston will have to try to take down their first title since 2008 next season.

You get the point.

The 76ers, Bulls, Celtics, and nearly every other NBA organization might openly joke about the Lakers' current record, but behind closed doors their management teams are brimming with jealousy over the Lakers 2020 banner. They’d do anything to bring a title home.

Everything that organizations do — stockpiling draft picks, tanking, making trades, signing free agents, adding depth, building a young core — is all geared toward one goal: Winning a championship against the 29 other NBA teams that want the same thing.

The Lakers won it all in 2020. For now, nothing else matters.

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