The NBA offseason has definitely been one for the books, with foreseeable trades and signings, as well as history-altering pick-ups. Although the Eastern Conference has seemingly stolen the best player in the league (at least up until the Finals - Kevin Durant) and has teams with potentially perennial talents (Giannis Antetokounmpo or the Joel Embiid/Ben Simmons tandem), the power of the NBA will still mostly reside in the Western Conference.
With the departure of Kevin Durant and the dreadful injury to Klay Thompson, the Golden State Warriors have seemingly opened the door to the rest of the Western Conference, despite bolstering their roster in the short-term with the sign-and-trade deal with the Brooklyn Nets for D’Angelo Russell. An argument can be made for several teams in the west to pick up the torch (which can be read in my breakdown articles of each team), however this article will focus on the path the Los Angeles Lakers can follow in order to retake the reins of the NBA, which seems to be more open than it has been for the past 5 years.
Prior to the 2018/19 season, the Lakers were able to reel in the talents of Lebron James on a four-year deal, with the hopes of luring in another superstar, such as Kawahi Leonard or Paul George, during the offseason. In the short-term, James was tasked with taking an ill-advised, yet somewhat promising, mix of old and new players to the playoffs for the first time since the 2012/13 season. However, early promise shown by youngsters Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram was not enough to prevent the Lakers from their inevitable doom of not reaching the playoffs yet again, as they were frustrated by key injuries and inconsistent contributions from role players across the rotation, with a groin injury to Lebron James on Christmas night being the heaviest.
Heading into this offseason and free agency, the Lakers were drawing a tremendous amount of attention around the NBA circuit, however none of it was pertaining to their plans to sign another big name. The Lakers were bogged down by issues within the front office and ownership, as well as speculation that James wanted out of Los Angeles. This was all silenced when the trade of Anthony Davis, who was previously written off as a potential trade option given the strong opposition from key members within the New Orleans’ front office, was announced. Shortly afterwards, the Lakers were then in the running for the addition of Kawahi Leonard, which would have arguably assembled the most potent big three the league has ever seen.
The Lakers sacrificed the possible signings of several other role players, such as Josh Reddick, so that they would have the financial capability to sign Leonard while still having wiggle room for next season when Anthony Davis will officially become a free agent. In holding out for Leonard, who they ultimately were unable to sign, several players that would have provided much needed shooting support were signed to other teams. Despite the loss of several potential role pieces, the Lakers were still able to benefit by having several contracts with potential bench pieces in place in case their pursuit of Leonard came up short. The same night that Leonard broke the news that he was heading to the other LA-based organization, the Lakers proceeded with this Plan B, and inked deals with Demarcus Cousins, Danny Green, Quinn Cook, Avery Bradley and Jason Dudley. They also resigned Rajon Rondo, JaVale McGee and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
With a potential starting-five of James and Green at the guards, Kuzma and Davis as forwards, and a rotation of Cousins/McGee at the center, the Lakers could replicate the formidable offensive capabilities that the Warriors have been known for with their various starting five line-ups over the past two seasons.
While the Hamptons Five Lineup was the most dynamic line-up the league has ever seen, the Lakers have set their team up for better success due to the surrounding support of their bench. This past NBA Finals we saw that despite having a star-studded starting rotation, it is still possible to come up short when it matters (although gruesome season-ending injuries to Thompson and Durant did not help the Warriors’ case).
James and Davis are proven entities within the NBA, so the Lakers should be in every game that both players are able to suit up and play in.
Kuzma is the only bright young spot that was not shipped off to New Orleans during the acquisition of Davis, and he has the potential to become a strong third contributor.
Green is a proven three-point specialist and will have an instant impact on a Lakers team that struggled to shoot from deep last season (33.3%), despite throwing up an average of 31 3-pointers a night. Green will also provide strong defensive support.
McGee had a strong first season with the Lakers last season. He averaged 12 points and 7.5 rebounds in 22.3 minutes, appearing in 75 games. With the signing of Demarcus Cousins it is probable that McGee will see less minutes, however it will depend largely on the health and conditioning of Cousins. Cousins was unable to land the large, long-term deal that he had anticipated following a cheap one-year deal with the Warriors this past season, largely due to heavy criticism of his lack of conditioning in the back half of the season, as well as the Finals. If Cousins comes to opening night in good shape, he should receive the bulk of minutes at the center position, as he has the potential for a huge bounce-back season.
The acquisitions of Dudley and Bradley are extremely intriguing, as both have proven their worth in the NBA but neither are more than bodies off the bench. Cook is an interesting back-up guard that has played many minutes as a back-up to Stephen Curry, and Rondo has been a proven dimer since his time in Boston.
At the end of the NBA Finals it would have been crazy to think that the Lakers would be in the position they are in now. The long-term success of the Lakers is dependent on the health status of James, Davis and Cousins, as well as getting consistent contributions from the bench. If both boxes are checked come the end of the season, and the Lakers head into the playoffs at full health, they will be the toughest team to beat, and should come out of the West on top.
All stats from ESPN.
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