Lakers Rumors: LA Doesn't Believe It Can Win at a 'High Level' with Russell Westbrook

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVFebruary 9, 2022

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 7: Anthony Davis #3 of the Los Angeles Lakers, Russell Westbrook #0 of the Los Angeles Lakers and LeBron James #6 of the Los Angeles Lakers look on during the game against the Boston Celtics on December 7, 2021 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2021 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Many outsiders have expressed reservations about the Los Angeles Lakers as currently constructed. Now, that skepticism may have spread to the team itself.

The Athletic's Bill Oram reported Wednesday the Lakers "no longer believe they can win at a high level" while building around a Big Three of LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook, with Westbrook the one piece that doesn't fit.

Whereas Los Angeles thought it might be able to make it until the end of the season to execute another major roster shakeup, a 131-116 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday has made the team reconsider that stance, per Oram:

"Could things be so dire that the Lakers would be better off including that ’27 pick in a swap now — say for Houston’s John Wall? — even if it means a lesser return? Desperation got the Lakers into this mess and it might take desperation to get them out. ... One Lakers staffer who had reservations about the trade when it was made in July recently told The Athletic, 'I didn’t think it would be this bad.'"

ESPN's Dave McMenamin filed a similar report following the Bucks loss, writing that "suspicion had been mounting for weeks, if not months, for a Lakers team built with a title in mind."

"While Los Angeles is 10-8 in those games [that all three of James, Davis and Westbrook have played together], standing pat and hoping that winning percentage improves to finish the season strong is not seen as a viable option by players on the team, sources told ESPN," per McMenamin.

SportsCenter @SportsCenter

Following their loss last night, LeBron said he doesn't think the Lakers can reach the level that the Bucks are at right now.<br><br>(via <a href="https://twitter.com/Lakers?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Lakers</a>) <a href="https://t.co/G0gU75T8hw">pic.twitter.com/G0gU75T8hw</a>

However, the Lakers painted themselves into a corner with the Westbrook deal.

General manager Rob Pelinka exhausted almost all of his remaining trade assets to get the nine-time All-Star. In the event things went wrong—as they are right now—pivoting in another direction would be difficult.

Los Angeles isn't helped by the fact Talen Horton-Tucker isn't going above and beyond this season. He's averaging 9.4 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.5 assists. The 21-year-old isn't going to be the centerpiece of a deal for a marquee star.

Kendrick Nunn has yet to play for L.A. because of a bone bruise in his knee. He suffered a setback during his recovery in January. 

Aside from making yet another gamble on a potentially past-his-prime star on a bad contract—Wall is the most obvious example—it's hard to see how the Lakers can shift Westbrook on to another team.

The exchange for signing James is that a front office has to approach every offseason with a win-now mindset and effectively appease the four-time MVP by surrounding him with a roster he wants.

McMenamin (h/t Jacob Rude of Silver Screen & Roll) reported in August that James preferred landing Westbrook over Buddy Hield, who's three-point shooting might have made him a better fit in the rotation.

Just as the Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers discovered, the Lakers are finding out how the bill inevitably comes due when you make a series of shortsighted moves in order to capitalize on James' presence.