After a disappointing season that ended in yet another failure to make the playoffs, many NBA fans doubt the Los Angeles Lakers as a serious contender. The critics can point to the number of new players on the team, a new coach, an aging LeBron, and a front office with a history of miscalculations in recent years. Some of those arguments may have merit, but writing off this team before the upcoming NBA season even starts could be a serious mistake.
Before anyone starts comparing the 2019/20 edition of the Lakers to any of the squads from recent seasons, there are several reasons not to underestimate the Lakers this season.
Reason #1 – New star in town
Anthony Davis is the best big man in the NBA, and he’s just 26 years old with room to grow as a player. He also never had the kind of guidance and on-court leadership that he will enjoy this year playing alongside James. It wouldn’t be a stretch to expect Davis to have a career season if he can stay healthy and learn his role in the offense quickly. Having an inside presence of this caliber gives the Lakers another dimension, and prevents the opponents from focusing too much attention on perimeter players. Most importantly, Davis gives the Lakers a go-to option capable of scoring in a variety of ways, while also presenting a layer of insurance in case James suffers an injury again.
Reason #2 – Better team chemistry
Last year, the Lakers were driving in two lanes at once and the results haven’t been pretty. Half of the team consisted of young, highly drafted players still learning the ropes, while the other half were veterans on one-year deals looking to secure a long-term contract. This year’s team is far more balanced in terms of age and experience and features a clear pecking order that starts with the two All-Stars. It’s also fair to consider that team chemistry suffered last year after speculations about the Davis trade started making rounds in the media, but this saga is now completed and it’s unlikely the team will experience anything similar this season. This might be just enough to prevent a few losses and push the Lakers into the top tier of Western Conference teams.
Reason #3 – Angry LeBron
LeBron just missed the playoffs for the first time since his rookie season. He hears talking heads proclaiming he isn’t the best player in the world anymore. Regardless of how many accolades he won in his career, he can’t be too happy about the current state of affairs. Going by individual statistics, LeBron had a solid first season with the Lakers (27.4 points, 8.5 rebounds, 8.3 assists), but at times he looked frustrated on offense and indifferent on defense. Having a refocused LeBron at the command could dramatically change the Lakers’ fortunes, possibly providing the spark that brings the team together, much like during his glory years in Miami and Cleveland. Watch out for a revenge season from The King!
Reason #4 – Championship pedigree
There is a reason why the Lakers have 16 NBA championships to their name – this is a franchise that is interested only in the big prize and ready to do whatever it takes to get back to the top. Few NBA teams can lean on their history the way Lakers can, inspiring the current generation to match the excellence of those who donned the gold-and-purple jerseys before. Institutional knowledge can’t be ignored either, as it’s been less than a decade since the last title and the current GM Rob Pelinka was heavily involved with the team back then as Kobe’s agent. Replicating the magic of the Phil Jackson era won’t be easy, but the Lakers are better equipped to try than a vast majority of their rivals (including the Clippers).
Reason #5 – A committed ownership
We all know that Lakers are a family-owned business, so things are just a little more personal for Jennie Buss than for the average owner of an NBA team. The recent track record of bold trades and high profile free agency signings confirms what anyone following the team would expect – the management wants another title, and wants it soon. It’s perfectly possible the Lakers will make another addition or two during the season, either through trades or by picking up a veteran on the buyout market. Financial considerations will never get in the way of the pursuit of glory for as long as the Buss family is in charge, and that kind of stability is comforting for the entire organization.
Reason #6 – More reliable role players
This team is clearly deeper, more experienced, and better tailored to fit around its foundational stars. If the Lakers want to advance far in the playoffs, several role players will have to emerge over the course of the NBA season and claim the available minutes. The pool of candidates includes Rajon Rondo, Jarred Dudley, Avery Bradley, Alex Caruso, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, as well as recently signed Dwight Howard. It’s simply imperative for the Lakers to get some consistent production out of their bit players since in the modern NBA it’s nearly impossible to win big without a good bench that allows starters to rest enough.
Reason #7 – An easier path through the West
No team other than the Warriors represented the Western Conference in the Finals for the past five years, but Golden State lost quite a bit of its firepower over the summer. While Houston, Portland, Denver, and the Clippers field excellent teams, it could still be said that the Lakers have fewer roadblocks ahead of them. This year, even an imperfect team could claim the spot in the Finals with a well-timed run and some luck with injuries, so there is a window of opportunity the Lakers could exploit. A lot of things still have to go right, but compared to the challenge of beating Curry, Durant and the crew, the task ahead of this year’s team looks much easier.