Over the last few years, the trend in attitude towards the NBA regular season has been waning in value.
With LeBron James spoiling us with 8 consecutive NBA Finals appearances regardless of seeding, more and more teams taking notes from the Spurs on resting players, and the ring culture giving so much weight to winning the Finals at least once the regular season has been on the backburner.
But when the Lakers decided that they would rather have Russell Westbrook instead of Buddy Hield, that sent a message that the Lakers were more concerned with building their team for the regular season rather than the playoffs.
With limited assets,
LeBron Rob Pelinka couldn’t get both. And even though Hield was first reported as headed to the Staples Center, the decision was made to pivot to Westbrook.
Many NBA pundits and media personalities have come out on the side of adding Hield and his shooting would have been a better recipe for success around LeBron and Anthony Davis; even after the surprise signings of Malik Monk and Kendrick Nunn.
To understand why the Lakers preferred Westbrook moving forward you have to look back at last year.
Before LeBron was hurt he was one of the favorites for another MVP award after winning a title in the bubble. Anthony Davis was still a great 1B by his side and the Lakers were 3rd in the Western conference.
But LeBron went out, Davis had to carry more of the load, and the entire ecosystem fell apart. Falling to the 7th seed and still not managing to get healthy, the Suns were able to send the defending champs home after Davis re-injured himself.
Enter Russell Westbrook.
If Buddy Hield would have been the player who raised the ceiling for the Lakers come playoff time, Russell Westbrook is the player who raises their metaphoric floor during the regular season when LeBron isn’t on the literal floor. With the West as strong as it is, the choice was clear.
Getting LeBron and Davis to the playoffs healthy (and preferably outside of the play-in tournament) was THE most important part of this offseason; even more so than improving the team’s ceiling come playoff time.
After being forced to show their hand in such a way, the Lakers rebounded in a way only the Lakers can by signing Malik Monk, Wayne Ellington, and Kendrick Nunn on cheap deals to give them the shooting the team was lacking while also adding plenty of former Laker players who know how things work in LA.
It’s interesting though that the Lakers front office went into this postseason with the belief that the regular season was more of a threat to this team’s chances at passing the Boston Celtics for most titles all-time than the actual postseason itself.
When you have King James though, even in his age 37 season coming up, it’s hard to bet against him with a healthy team surrounding come playoff time.