Newsletter: Five things the Lakers can do to get back on track

Lakers coach Frank Vogel talks to guard Russell Westbrook.
Lakers coach Frank Vogel talks to guard Russell Westbrook during a game against the Sacramento Kings earlier this month.
(José Luis Villegas / Associated Press)
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Hello everyone from the first stages of the Lakers’ six-game road trip. It’s Dan Woike, Lakers beat reporter for The Times, filing this week’s newsletter from the American Airlines airport lounge, the travel perk I hold closest to my heart (there are electrical outlets everywhere — it’s heaven).

In this week’s newsletter, we’re going to list the things that need to happen, at least in my opinion, for the Lakers to maximize their chances to make the most out of this season.


Deal with the Westbrook situation

Situation is one word you could use. Dilemma is another. Maybe mess. Disaster. You pick. Problem seems right, so let’s go with that.

The Lakers guard is totally floundering midway through this season, unable to give the Lakers any kind of consistent performance as he painfully tries to find his place on the roster with LeBron James.

Coach Frank Vogel tried his best to solve that problem Wednesday, benching Westbrook for the final four minutes in the Lakers’ loss to the Indiana Pacers at Bitcoin Barn in Los Angeles. That decision, which Vogel said was designed to give the Lakers the best chance to win, was met with a loss and Westbrook not being made available to speak with the press following the game.

Like the Lakers, it’s just felt like it’s always something with Westbrook — remember his turnover problems? Since committing nine in a win against Minnesota, Westbrook has committed only seven in the seven games since. And that caution with the ball? It’s affected winning in no noticeable ways, with the Lakers going 3-4 in that stretch.

With the exception of an incredibly angry dunk on Rudy Gobert, he’s looked much less aggressive, which leads you to ask yourself, “What’s the point?”

This is the biggest question facing the Lakers — should they give in to Westbrook’s chaos and try to tolerate the whiplash from the highs and lows, or should they try to marginalize him in an effort to avoid mistakes?


The answer is “Neither.” Both seem like bad ideas that we’ve already seen fail.

At a minimum, the Lakers need Westbrook to focus his effort and energy on defense, to stop getting lost in the middle of possessions, to stay within the team’s proven systems and affect the game on that side of the court. It’s where he’s needed most. If he did that, you could stomach high turnovers or 30% shooting (probably not both, though).

Since teams are not lining up to acquire Westbrook and pay him $47 million next season, it’s the Lakers’ problem to figure out — no matter what else happens.

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Make a coaching decision

Vogel’s job status has dominated the Lakers’ news cycle this week, starting with a report in the Athletic and followed up by our own story about the situation — both of which clouded any good vibes from the team’s win over the Utah Jazz on Monday.

It seems like the Lakers can’t continue to be sort of in, sort of out with Vogel. They need to pick a side — with common sense suggesting that voicing confidence in him for the time being would be the best path forward.

The Lakers have complained about not being able to build continuity this season, and removing yet another key part of their 2019-20 title run doesn’t get them any closer to recapturing that. This isn’t to say that Vogel can’t be better — the Lakers need him to be. Just like he said, the Lakers are playing with slim margins on the court, so he’s got to do the same on the sideline.

If the Lakers think there are positives to be gained by making a change, they probably just need to do it — no matter how widely it’s believed that this isn’t necessarily fair to Vogel. If they don’t think there’s a better option — someone needs to step forward to say that having Vogel as coach gives them the best chance to win.

Commit to a style

The Lakers have touted their versatility — it was, in fact, a key part of their success in their championship playoff run inside the bubble. That team was just so much more sound than this one, and that makes me think that a continued simplification of things is the best option.

While the Lakers’ small-ball lineups were atrocious defensively — video from Naz Reid’s performance against the Lakers should be playing on a loop inside his agent’s office — at least the group was having success on offense. That’s better than mediocre on both ends of the court, which is sort of how the Lakers have looked when they’ve played bigger.


Either way, adding more layers to what the Lakers are trying to do seems like a recipe for more confused possessions. The Lakers lead the NBA in giving up layups and then looking around wondering how it just happened.

Getting Anthony Davis back should help. Maybe the Lakers only play Davis and James at center from that point forward with limited exceptions. Maybe they revert to the big-man heavy rotation they began the year with. But whatever they do, they need to do it with conviction.

Don’t panic at the trade deadline

This one is pretty simple, and it pertains to Talen Horton-Tucker or the future first-round picks they can trade that would convey sometime around the end of the decade.

If you make a deal, it can’t be to make the team slightly better — there would need to be real improvement from talent that fits. It can’t just be rotational player upgrades that seemingly fill needs. The Lakers aren’t in position to sacrifice their few remaining assets.

Lakers forward Anthony Davis sits on the bench between guard Russell Westbrook, left, and center Dwight Howard.
Lakers forward Anthony Davis sits on the bench between guard Russell Westbrook, left, and center Dwight Howard on Christmas Day. The All-Star forward is expected to play again before the All-Star break.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Light a fire under Anthony Davis

This might be the most unspoken issue the Lakers are facing. Once Davis comes back, they need him to shed his timid play.


He has the ability to be one of the NBA’s most dominant players, and the Lakers need to fully lean into that despite concerns about his physical abilities to be able to handle it.

Despite everything else, it’s reasonable to think that if the Lakers have James and Davis performing at a high level, they’ll be tough to beat four times in a best-of-seven playoff series.

The steadfastness with which people should believe that has definitely been eroded in the first 45 games this season, but it shouldn’t be completely gone.

It would be better if you didn’t have to feel so crazy when you say that out loud.

Song of the week

Under the Pressure” (Live at Austin City Limits) — The War on Drugs

Here’s a song that helped me fall deeply into the genre — a fitting jam as the Lakers head out with plenty of pressure.

If you’ve been paying attention to this space, you might’ve noticed a trend when it comes to these selections. You could classify a lot of this as “Dad Rock” — an unofficial genre of guitar-driven rock music that’s not too loud, not too soft and not too lazy. It demands just the right amount from the listener — heartfelt lyrics that you can or can’t ignore surrounded by the kind of music that you can just sort of fade back into it.


It’s why I felt very seen and very very judged by this site: What your favorite sad dad band says about you

Since we last spoke ...

—Plaschke: Shame on Lakers for getting what they deserve: Mediocre team, major problems
—Sources: ‘No current plans’ to replace Frank Vogel, but Kurt Rambis makes voice heard
—Stanley Johnson’s impact and role for the Lakers keeps growing
Lakers’ Anthony Davis cleared for full-contact, on-court workouts
—Magic Johnson says Lakers fans deserve better; LeBron promises Lakers will be better
—Lakers’ defensive woes hit new low vs. Nuggets in biggest loss of the season
—Lakers working again to improve defense with Anthony Davis still sidelined

Until next time...

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