The Lakers have work to do if they want to repeat as NBA Champions. Can LeBron James and Anthony Davis bring another title to Los Angeles?
Life in the NBA Bubble proved fruitful for LeBron James and the Lakers. They were able to stave off the competition to bring another title back to fans in Los Angeles. To repeat that feat, LeBron and Anthony Davis are going to reprise that elite performance with more help from their teammates.
There are some important new faces inside the Staples Center’s home dressing room. Dennis Schroder gives the team some added scoring punch on the perimeter. The combination of Marc Gasol and Montrezl Harrell gives Los Angeles a new look duo to man the center spot. If anything, it looks like the Lakers have even more talent heading into the 2020-21 campaign.
That doesn’t mean they’re certain to win another NBA title. They have their share of issues to iron out. Answering the following five questions would be a good start for LeBron and company.
1. Are the Lakers overwhelming favorites after somehow getting better in the offseason?
Overwhelming is a strong word, but the Lakers have every reason to feel confident about their chances of winning another title. The addition of Schroder will take a lot of scoring responsibility off of LeBron during the regular season. Signing him could turn into a stroke of genius in retrospect for the Lakers front office.
As good as James was during last year’s playoffs, it’s still fair to wonder how much effort he’ll expend during this truncated regular season. He’s got a real history of turning things on just in time for the postseason, but it wouldn’t be a major surprise to see the Lakers coast into the playoffs with a No. 3 or No. 4 seed.
The probability of losing homecourt advantage for at least one round of the Western Conference Playoffs is just enough to make calling Los Angeles an “overwhelming” favorite a bridge too far. They’re the favorites, but they still have plenty of competition to fend off.
2. The best nickname for the Trez-Gasol frontcourt combo is ?
The answer to this one is simple, the Trez-Gasol duo will be the Lakers’ very own version of “The Odd Couple.” There’s nothing remotely similar about these two centers on or off the floor.
In fact, Lakers fans should expect to see some arguments erupt the moment Harrell misses a defensive rotation. Gasol is a crotchety old veteran who demands perfection from his teammates. That might help Harrell get better over the course of the season, but there’s going to be substantial friction between these two as they compete for playing time ahead of the playoffs.
3. What is the Lakers’ biggest Achilles heel?
This is a question that keeps opposing teams up at night. A quick look at the Lakers roster shows it to be one of the deepest and most talented groups in the entire league.
If Los Angeles does have a weakness, it revolved around its perimeter defense. Wesley Matthews was brought in to sure things up, but he struggles to stay in front of speedy guards. That’s not a strength for James, Schroder, or anyone else on the roster.
Teams with really quick point guards are going to give the Lakers trouble. It’s not a huge chink in the armor for Los Angeles, but it’s a potential weakness to exploit for the competition.
4. Are you buying Kentavious Caldwell-Pope as the guy he was in the playoffs?
Caldwell-Pope successfully cashed in on last year’s playoff performance to the tune of a new three-year, $39+ million deal to stay with the Lakers. In fairness to Los Angeles’ front office, they didn’t have a way to replace Caldwell-Pope if he left. That forced the franchise into a mild overpay.
It’s worth noting that, despite his status as a veteran, Caldwell-Pope is still just 27-years-old. He isn’t going to suddenly bloom into a perennial All-Star, but expecting him to be an above-average starter with all of the talent surrounding him with the Lakers’ starting five is a reasonable expectation.
He won’t quite be the star he was during last year’s run to the title, but he will continue to be a positive player for the Lakers this season.
5. Will Kyle Kuzma finish the season as a Laker?
The Lakers don’t have a ton of roster flexibility, but one trade chip they do have at their disposal is Kuzma. He’s eligible for an extension off of his rookie contract, and it’s easy to envision a scenario where he and the Lakers don’t agree on what his future earnings should be.
That makes him a prime trade candidate for Los Angeles at the deadline. It’s not a certainty that he’ll be moved, but the odds do favor him being moved for a player better equipped to help the Lakers win another title this year. A fresh start for Kuzma could help get his career back on track. More importantly, it might net Los Angeles the player they need to go back-to-back as champions.