Lakers season preview: A return to the mountaintop?

Lakers season preview: A return to the mountaintop?

Previews

Lakers season preview: A return to the mountaintop?

- by

The Los Angeles Lakers head into a vital 2021-22 campaign with a ton on the line, though with some stability thanks to LeBron James and Anthony Davis both being signed at least through 2022-23.

Still, with brand names as powerful as “LeBron” and “Lakers” on one team, a ton of expectations come with that, and anything short of another championship run for Los Angeles will be seen as a major disappointment for the purple-and-gold franchise.

Below, check out our preview for the 2021-22 Lakers campaign.

Roster changes

Returning: LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Talen Horton-Tucker

Additions: Russell Westbrook (Washington), Kendrick Nunn (Miami), Carmelo Anthony (Portland), Trevor Ariza (Miami), Wayne Ellington (Detroit), Dwight Howard (Philadelphia), Rajon Rondo (LA Clippers), DeAndre Jordan (Brooklyn), Kent Bazemore (Golden State), Malik Monk (Charlotte), Cameron Oliver, Mac McClung (Texas Tech), Chaundee Brown (Michigan), Joel Ayayi (Gonzaga) and Austin Reaves (Oklahoma)

Departures: Wesley Matthews, Alfonzo McKinnie, Devontae Cacok (Brooklyn), Dennis Schroeder (Boston), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (Washington), Montrezl Harrell (Washington), Kyle Kuzma (Washington), Alex Caruso (Chicago), Marc Gasol, Jared Dudley (retired), Markieff Morris (Miami), Andre Drummond (Philadelphia), Ben McLemore (Portland) and Kostas Antetokounmpo (ASVEL Villeurbanne)

Strengths

* Ridiculous star power… Sure, the majority of this roster, at least at the top, is no longer in their prime. Even so, the Lakers still possess not one but two perennial MVP candidates, are adding Westbrook, who just averaged a triple-double and led the league in nightly assists, and then filled the rest of the roster with the likes of Howard, Rondo and Carmelo Anthony, and you have one of the most star-studded rosters of all time, statistically.

Talk of James’ age-related demise has been much ado about nothing, as James still ranked No. 5 league-wide in Box Plus/Minus last season while putting up 25.0/7.7/7.8 stat line and shooting over 51.0 percent form the floor. Couple that with the fact James will be playing with an elite playmaker for the first time in a while in Westbrook, and you could have a much fresher version of the four-time league MVP late in the campaign and in the playoffs, when it matters most.

* Their size down low should be a strength once again… When the Lakers won the NBA championship in 2019-20, they did so in large part thanks to their ability to win so many extra possessions on the offensive glass, and by keeping foes from grabbing offensive boards of their own. In the 2020 playoffs, L.A. had the highest rebound and offensive rebound rate of any team that made it out of the first round by a wide margin. They mysteriously went away from that approach last year but should get right back to bullying opponents on both ends on the glass with Dwight Howard and adding DeAndre Jordan to go with Davis down low.

* Plenty of championship experience… Thanks to their best player, the Lakers have plenty of championship experience, as James has been to an astounding 10 NBA Finals, winning four of them. Davis also has one Finals trip under his belt with Los Angeles, as well as one championship ring. Add in Russell Westbrook, who’s helped lead a team to the Finals before, and Dwight Howard, who’s been to two Finals, winning one, and Rajon Rondo with his two championships, and you have a very veteran roster with deep playoff experience. This is not a squad that should get fazed under pressure.

Weaknesses

Their age could be a hindrance… A lot has been made about just how old the Lakers are set to be in 2021-22, and with good reason. James himself will be 36 when the season begins and turn 37 by late December. Anthony is already 37. Westbrook is 32. Rondo is 35. Howard is 35. Jordan is 33. Trevor Ariza is 36.

Durability as well… Last season, James and Davis combined to miss 63 regular-season games. Davis would also miss one full playoff game, though he played roughly 26 combined minutes in two other postseason contests due to injury. Westbrook has been the most durable of the Lakers’ new Big Three, and that could prove difficult to rely on considering the frenetic pace he plays at. And that’s without even discussing all of the aforementioned names who are in the twilights of their careers and will more than likely miss some time at some point in the season.

* Shooting could remain a problem… In 2020-21, the Lakers ranked a mediocre 21st overall in three-point shooting at 35.4 percent from deep. The campaign prior, they were also 21st overall but at 34.9 percent from deep. And although they made solid additions to address those concerns in Wayne Ellington (42.2 percent from three last season), Kendrick Nunn (38.1 percent), Anthony (40.9 percent) and Kent Bazemore (40.8 percent), the fact that they also brought Westbrook and Rondo leads us to believe shooting could be an issue.

Chemistry could take some time to come together… Only three players from last year’s Lakers team are back this season: James, Davis and Talen Horton-Tucker, who projects to have a far larger role for the team in 2021-22. That’s a ridiculous amount of new pieces Los Angeles will have to get acclimated to playing with James and Davis, including a ball-dominant point guard in Westbrook, who will be the trickiest of all to get used to sharing the floor with.

Depth chart

Possible moves

James Ennis, Orlando Magic

* In the short term, the Lakers still need to sign one more player to a standard contract after trading Marc Gasol. They are set with point guard and center depth, so they could look to sign one more wing player. One such player they could pursue is James Ennis, who they’ve expressed interest in according to Michael Scotto. The Lakers could also look to bring back familiar faces such as Wesley Matthews or Avery Bradley.

* The Lakers only have two tradeable salaries outside their big three in Talen Horton-Tucker ($9.5 million) and Kendrick Nunn ($5 million). Aggregating their salaries in a trade is the Lakers’ only chance at making a significant mid-season trade. They are set to have a $196 million roster once they presumably sign a 14th player to a veteran minimum contract. It will be interesting to see just how much more they’re willing to spend, which could decide whether or not they make a significant trade, let alone use their newly acquired $2.7 million trade exception.

* Having fewer tradeable salaries than last season’s team, there’s a strong chance the Lakers don’t make another in-season trade again and pursue more veterans that get bought out. They already signed the recently-waived Rajon Rondo and DeAndre Jordan, so they could patiently wait to sign some more veterans that hit the market. Some players that could potentially get bought out, either with their current teams or if traded to a bad situation, include John Wall, Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, Goran Dragic, and DJ Augustin. The Lakers could sign two players from the buy-out market if they keep a roster spot open, and sign their 14th player to a non-guaranteed contract and subsequently waive him before the league-wide cutdown date.

– Yossi Gozlan

Salaries

, , , , , , , , , ,

More HoopsHype