Like every year, Basket USA offers you a presentation of the upcoming NBA season, franchise by franchise, in the form of a countdown, from the 30th place to our favorite for the title of champion. Today, it’s time for the Lakers, who have totally or almost changed their face, compared to last season, to find the heights as in 2020. A metamorphosis that raises many questions.
A group to set to music
Following the elimination in the first round against the Suns last May, the Californian leaders passed the workforce in the washing machine before this new exercise: only LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Talen Horton-Tucker wore the jersey of the Lakers in 2020/21. The rest is new with the arrivals of Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, DeAndre Jordan, Malik Monk and Kent Bazemore not to mention the returns of Dwight Howard, Trevor Ariza, Wayne Ellington and Rajon Rondo.
The first observation is therefore very simple: yes, this group is prestigious on paper, but the matches are won on the field and there, the Lakers version 2021/22 have everything to do collectively. Certainly, they are experienced players, former All-Stars and the Howard – Rondo duo was already there only a year ago, in October 2020 in the « bubble », but Los Angeles lacks experience and cohesion. All this requires time and choices, Frank Vogel has not yet decided on his five major for example.
How long ? That’s the question. The franchise has 82 games to break in and with a conductor like LeBron James, it can go very quickly of course, especially since the « King » has already raised the issue of alchemy.
But the MVP of the 2020 Finals is no longer 25 or 30 years old and we do not build so easily, starting from nothing or almost and in just a few weeks, a machine capable of winning the title.
Will old age be a shipwreck?
Especially if this workforce is new, it is not new. The majority of the squad are or will be over 33, making the Lakers the oldest squad in the league this season. The good side is obviously the experience, omnipresent in all positions. The downside is the potential injuries and fatigue.
LeBron James is not eternal, nor unbreakable, his injuries in 2018 and 2021 have demonstrated it, and the ailments of Anthony Davis have weighed down the ambitions for the double. If the Lakers want to find the Finals, these two will have to stay away from the infirmary, especially in the spring.
The ideal for the Lakers would be to manage the regular season, not to push too hard on each other’s bodies, in order to be as fresh as possible for the playoffs.
But will they have this luxury if the results do not follow completely, because of the lack of automatisms? The Lakers need to play together, to arrive in the playoffs with references, but without pulling too much on the rope: this is the difficult balance to maintain for Frank Vogel in the weeks and months to come.
THE SUMMER MOVEMENTS
Arrivals : Russell Westbrook (Wizards), Dwight Howard (Sixers), Trevor Ariza and Kendrick Nunn (Heat), Kent Bazemore (Warriors), Wayne Ellington (Pistons), Carmelo Anthony (Blazers), Malik Monk (Hornets), Rajon Rondo, DeAndre Jordan, Sekou Doumbouya
Re-signatures : None
Departures : Montrezl Harrell, Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (Wizards), Alex Caruso (Bulls), Andre Drummond (Sixers), Markieff Morris (Heat), Dennis Schroder (Celtics), Jared Dudley
PLAYER TO WATCH: RUSSELL WESTBROOK
MVP in 2017, king of the triple-double, top scorer and passer in the league, Russell Westbrook has nothing more to prove on an individual level. Except that collectively, since the departure of Kevin Durant from Oklahoma City in 2016, it is nothing, with only one series won (in 2020 with Houston, in the « bubble »).
Back home in Los Angeles, the leader has a golden opportunity to win the title he came close to in 2012, beaten by Miami and LeBron James. Perhaps a role of third man, behind the « King » and Anthony Davis, will release him from a certain pressure and that the cohabitation with a player of the dimension of the « King » will make him mature.
However, its complementarity with the two champions is yet to be proven, since Russell Westbrook is still as crumbly when it comes to hitting 3-pts (24% success over the last two seasons…).
On the other hand, in addition to Rajon Rondo, he will be able to greatly relieve LeBron James, who will no longer need to lift the ball as much and will be able to move to post 4, and also play the pick-and-roll with Anthony Davis. In the regular season, that should be a big plus. It remains to be seen what it will give in the playoffs …
AVERAGE AGE: 30 years old
PAY MASS: $ 165 million (4th out of 30)
THE IDEAL SCENARIO
The bad preseason, which LeBron James scoffs at, was just a sham. The Lakers are ready from the start of the campaign. Certainly, there are still adjustments to be made here and there, but the defense, so strong in 2019/2020, is in place thanks to an Anthony Davis in great shape and already allows to accumulate the victories.
LeBron James, while carrying the ball less, sets up his teammates perfectly and each brings in their field. This colony of elders knows it’s now or never, and no ego wars are on their toes. Over the weeks, the machine is more and more formidable, then with intelligent rotations and the contribution of young people (Bazemore, Monk, Nunn, « THT »), Frank Vogel avoids the big physical problems of his stars.
With its constellation of talents, each of which can make a difference at any time, its dense bench and its experience, this group has an answer for everything in the playoffs and the 18th champion’s banner is ready to be hung from the ceiling of the Staples Center at the end. the country.
Accumulating stars is not enough. Russell Westbrook sometimes seems lost or out of time next to his teammates and overall, the Californians’ attack is muddled. Thanks to LeBron James, Anthony Davis or Carmelo Anthony, the Lakers certainly often find a solution to score, especially against weak or medium teams, but in defense, it skates and against the big teams, it does not pass.
The sores accumulate and Frank Vogel can never count on his entire group to work and develop an alchemy. LeBron James and Anthony Davis have to do too much to sometimes save the Lakers. They pay him off at the end of the season, when serious things are approaching.
Too strong not to qualify for the playoffs, the Californian franchise then has too many limits to hope to win four series in a row against more solid and more consistent formations, who know each other better. This is the fiasco for this group which does not have several years to win a ring …