The Los Angeles Lakers are in the midst of an embarrassing season capped off by a series loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. On paper, there’s no way they should be this bad considering their roster is loaded with two superstars.
The fictitious universe of Game of Thrones, created by George R.R. Martin, centred on the desire of ultimate power. However, Los Angeles is not a fictitious medieval realm of empires. It’s more accurately referred to as the Game of Star Power. It’s a game the Los Angeles Lakers have played for a long time and excelled at. Many of the NBA’s greatest players have worn the purple and gold, and finding the next big thing has become a mission. Last summer’s effort to induct Russell Westbrook into the Laker Hall of Big Names demonstrated that just because a bag is labeled “Gucci” doesn’t mean it’s not ugly as hell.
With his sixth unofficial quadruple-double (points, assists, rebounds, and (gulp!) turnovers) in a dreadful loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Oct. 27, Westbrook extended his NBA record for most unofficial quadruple-doubles (points, assists, rebounds, and (gulp!) turnovers. So far this season, the 2016–17 NBA MVP and king of the triple-double has averaged 6.0 turnovers per game, which is more than everyone else in the NBA who isn’t called “Kevin Porter Jr.” The old Lakers have a lot of injuries and aren’t playing well. It didn’t have to be this this.
The Lakers had a deal in the works for a guard who wasn’t called Russell Westbrook.
The Lakers went from NBA champions to play-in tournament participants last season. Injuries were a factor, but so was their erratic 3-point shooting. In terms of 3-point percentage, makes, and attempts, LA ranked in the bottom ten in the league.
Rumors surfaced early in the summer that the Lakers were close to completing a deal with the Sacramento Kings to address that issue. Buddy Hield may just be a household name in the Hield family, but he’s a long-distance shooting ninja. Hield was the volume-shooting deep threat LA urgently needed to create space for LeBron James and Anthony Davis last season, hitting 40.6 percent from three in his career.
That’s when the concept of “Game of Star Power” emerged. Hield is a strong player who would have fit in with the Lakers’ roster like a glove (like one can order on Rodeo Drive for the right price). Rob Pelinka, the vice president of basketball operations and general manager of the Los Angeles Lakers, received stars in his eyes instead. He went for Russell Westbrook instead of Hield, who would have been a better match.
That would be Russell Westbrook, a 30.5 percent 3-point shooter in his career. Pelinka said, “Spacing, shmacing.” Simply bring in another big name to pique the interest of a fickle fan base that has endured six years of non-playoff basketball.
In Los Angeles, Westbrook has exceeded himself, and not in a good way. He’s shooting 17.4 percent from beyond the arc, despite the fact that he continues throwing them (4.6 attempts per game). Yes, he has 9.4 rebounds and 9.4 assists per game. The 6.0 turnovers, 4.2 personal fouls, and weird devotion to unwritten rules, on the other hand, have done more harm than good.
What about Hield? Lakers supporters may be discouraged by a wistful stare toward Northern California.
Hield is illuminating it from afar.
The Sacramento Kings are 2–2 and seem to be on the verge of snapping one of the NBA’s two longest losing streaks. The Kings haven’t made the playoffs since 2006, matching the 15-year skid of the Buffalo Braves/San Diego/Los Angeles Clippers from 1977 to 1991.
One of the main reasons for this is Hield. Because that’s his job, and that’s what he does, he’s making a career-high 10.8 3-pointers per game. He’s completing 4.8 of those tries at a career-high rate of 44.2 percent, which is also a career-high pace.
He doesn’t take many 2s (just 3.8 each night) or make many of them (1.3, 33.3 percent ). However, in California’s capitol, Hield is known as the “space whisperer.” It’s also a good thing, since even though he makes more than a quarter of Sacramento’s 3-point attempts, the team’s percentage is just 34.2 percent.
The Lakers could have had all of that space if they wanted it. They went with Russell Westbrook.
However, this isn’t the first time that a celebrity acquisition has failed in Los Angeles.
The Lakers had some remarkable swings and misses despite their tremendous superstars.
The Los Angeles Lakers were set to sign sharpshooter Buddy Hield (L), but the team’s preoccupation with superstars prompted them to trade for Russell Westbrook (R). Getty Images/Christian Petersen | Getty Images/Thearon W. Henderson
Mitch Kupchak, the team’s general manager at the time, devised a strategy in the summer of 2012. In the Western Conference playoffs, the veteran Lakers were thrashed by the up-and-coming Oklahoma City Thunder in five games. Kobe Bryant was 34 at the time, and his championship chances were dwindling. (Kupchak hadn’t yet come to terms with reality; the window had already been nailed shut.)
Dwight Howard, coming off back surgery and a top-10 player in the NBA, and Steve Nash, two-time NBA MVP and 37 years old with a career-ending nerve condition in his leg, were signed by the GM.
Bryant tore his Achilles late in the season, Nash only participated in 50 games, Howard battled with everyone, and the season finished with the Spurs sweeping the season in the first round.
It was similar to James’ first season in Los Angeles, but with more turmoil. Soon after, the Lakers began their descent to the basement of the NBA standings. A slew of lottery winners arrived, disappointed, and then went.
Westbrook was acquired by the Lakers this summer. Carmelo Anthony was subsequently signed, and they looked to be casting a remake of the 1980s drama 30something.
Buddy Hield was waiting for him. Pelinka, on the other hand, was sidetracked by something brighter in his line of view and ended up with Russell Westbrook. The early results aren’t looking good. If only the Los Angeles Lakers had someone who could better stretch the court. But wait, there’s more. They were so close to succeeding.
Basketball Reference and Stathead provided the statistics.
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