Top Takeaways from Malik Monk, Lakers' Win vs. Nuggets with LeBron, Jokic Out

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistApril 11, 2022

Top Takeaways from Malik Monk, Lakers' Win vs. Nuggets with LeBron, Jokic Out

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    It was a disappointing season for the Los Angeles Lakers, to say the least. Despite having superstars in LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook—along with championship aspirations—Los Angeles never truly felt like a contender.

    The team's chemistry was off all season, and coach Frank Vogel was on the hot seat for most of it. According to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, Sunday's game against the Denver Nuggets will be Vogel's last as the head coach.

    At least Vogel and the Lakers were able to go out on a high note, notching a 146-141 overtime win over Denver in the finale. James Davis and Westbrook all sat, while the Nuggets rested star MVP candidate Nikola Jokic (wrist).

    While the game was short on star power, it was still an exciting battle—one Denver needed to win to have a shot at claiming the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference.

    Los Angeles got big-time performances out of rookie Austin Reaves (31 points) and Malik Monk (41 points).

    The outcome means little for the Lakers as they now enter the offseason. However, it did provide a little insight into what could be next for L.A. as it looks to regroup. Here are our biggest takeaways from the Lakers' final win of the 2021-22 season.

Austin Reaves Has a Bright Future

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    One bright spot this season, as it pertains to L.A.'s future, has been Reaves. The undrafted Oklahoma product caught on with the Lakers before the season and has become a protege of sorts to James. 

    The rookie showed a lot of growth during the season, averaging 7.3 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.8 assists in 23.2 minutes per game. He's not a star yet, but he's becoming a reliable piece of the rotation.

    "Austin has proven himself," James said, per Jacob Rude of Silver Screen and Roll.

    On Sunday, Reaves showed that he can be a future star in Los Angeles. He did a little bit of everything in the win over Denver, finishing with 31 points, 10 assists and 16 rebounds. He scored the team's final five points to force overtime and seven of 11 in the extra period.

    According to Spectrum Sportsnet (h/t Eric Eulau of FanNation), Reaves became the first undrafted player in NBA history to record a 30-point triple-double. That's an incredible feat, even if it was a meaningless game and if Denver was without its biggest star.

    The 6'5" shooting guard has the potential to be a centerpiece for the Lakers moving forward, and L.A. should be happy to have a guaranteed club option for him next season.

    Los Angeles will have to do a fair bit of roster retooling in the offseason, but Reaves is a keeper and shouldn't be going anywhere anytime soon.

The Lakers Would Be Wise to Bring Back Malik Monk

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Monk has thrived alongside James this season, as the two have forged a bond on the court. The 24-year-old averaged a career-best 13.8 points and 2.3 three-pointers while shooting a career-best 47.3 percent from the floor.

    Sunday's game was another example, though, that Monk doesn't need stars like James or Davis to be a difference-maker on the court. He was the center of the Lakers offense, finishing with 41 points on a 14-of-25 shooting performance.

    Monk has been a valuable addition to the roster, and it would behoove the Lakers to make an attempt at re-signing him. The problem, according to Bleacher Report's Jake Fischer, is that Monk may have played his way out of Los Angeles' price range.

    "Expectations among league personnel polled by B/R for Monk's next salary are quite varied but have ranged from an average annual value between $5 million and $10 million, far above the minimum number that the Lakers were able to sign him for this season," Fischer wrote.

    Unless the Lakers find a way to move Westbrook and his $47 million 2022 salary, they may not have a chance to match any high-end offers Monk gets on the open market.

    The good news for Los Angeles is that Monk sounds willing to return.

    "I love it here," Monk said, per Allen Sliwa of ESPN Los Angeles. "Def would like to come back."

    If the Lakers can make it happen, they should.

Firing Vogel Will Provide a Fresh Start, Not Improvements

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Firing Vogel won't fix all of L.A.'s issues. He wasn't behind the ill-advised decision to acquire Westbrook, and he didn't make his players forget how to play defense. However, the relationship between the roster and the coach has been strained all season.

    For Westbrook, there was never a good relationship to begin with.

    "Russ never respected [coach] Frank [Vogel] from day one," one anonymous Lakers staff member told Dan Woike and Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times. "The moment Frank said anybody who gets the rebound can bring it up the court, which is just how the NBA is played these days, Russ was like, 'Naw, I'm the point guard. Give the ball to me.'"

    Vogel, in turn, may have come to resent his aging stars. He seemed to take a subtle shot at James, Westbrook and Co. after Friday's blowout win over the Oklahoma City Thunder—a win that didn't feature James, Davis, Westbrook or Carmelo Anthony.

    "Team win. Eight guys in double figures. We guarded, finally," Vogel said in the postgame press conference.

    The Lakers didn't do much guarding in a game that featured 287 points Sunday. They got the win, though. and players were happy to give Vogel one final victory. Monk even went out of his way to praise the job Vogel did during this difficult season.

    "He was always about us. It was never really about him. And I praise him for that, man," Monk said, per Wojnarowski.

    Not everyone will be happy to see Vogel go, and finding a new head coach won't instantly fix the team's chemistry and defensive issues. It will give the organization a fresh start, though, which may be enough to get L.A. back to winning next season.