The first season for Lebron in Los Angeles was bumpy to say the least. They finished outside of the playoffs after James had made the Finals for eight straight seasons. The Lakers still managed to pull off the trade they wanted to make all along, getting Anthony Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans. Los Angeles filled out the roster with a number of other quality players including Danny Green from the Toronto Raptors. Currently they sit at the top of the Western Conference with virtually no chance of slipping from that perch in the eight play-in games.
When they play together, James and Davis are unstoppable on offense and very effective on defense. So, when the Lakers can play close games, they have the better duo to pull out wins. They are 25-7 in games decided by less than 10 points, including 2-0 in overtime. The problem is keeping it that close against good teams. They’re 19-10 in such games, and only have 14 losses all year. It’s in those games that their lack of depth comes through.
Kyle Kuzma was one of the players who stood out last year in a weird season for the Lakers. He was one guy the Lakers really didn’t want to part with when they were trying to trade for Davis. He’s been their top player off the bench scoring 18 points per game but he needs to improve his three-point shooting (sub 30% currently) to elevate his game.
The Lakers also need veterans like Green, Dwight Howard and, up until this point, Rajon Rondo, to come up big. Rondo hurt his thumb and likely won’t be back this year. And Avery Bradley opted out of the bubble. Now those two have been replaced by JR Smith and Dion Waiters. That’s a huge defensive downgrade and a huge instability upgrade. But both players can knock down shots and with the attention Lebron and Davis attract, they should get plenty of those.
Not Enough Defense
If the Lakers are going to win it all, they’re going to need to outscore opponents. They should have no problem against whoever ends up at the #8 seed in the West. But you can imagine if they face the Houston Rockets or Dallas Mavericks in the second round how the pressure on them to keep up scoring-wise will increase. If they survive that round, I don’t give them much of a chance to take down the Clippers in a seven-game series.
One More Run Next Year
Assuming Anthony Davis picks up his player option next year, then the Lakers return in tact except possibly for Dwight Howard whose contract is up and generally wears out his welcome after a short time. But players still want to play with LeBron and for the Lakers so if whether the Lakers are champions this season or not, there are likely some discount contracts to hand out to veterans who want to make one more run with this group.
Beyond 2021, the Lakers only have money committed to LeBron and Kyle Kuzma. Their priority would be to sign Anthony Davis long-term and then build another championship contender around those three. LeBron will retire at some point (right?) but the Lakers will still have Davis and Kuzma and likely some other star who has always wanted to wear the purple and gold.