30 Teams in 30 Days
30 Teams in 30 Days

30 Teams in 30 Days: It's win-now mode for Lakers

With transformational talent in Anthony Davis and LeBron on the clock, L.A. focused on ultimate prize

Shaun Powell

Shaun Powell

Archive

Sep 11, 2019 9:22 AM ET

LeBron James and Anthony Davis give the Lakers needed star power in the stacked West.

Like most summers in the NBA, the 2019 edition was chock full of tradesfree agent news and player movement. From the defending-champion Toronto Raptors to just about every other team in the league, change was the most applicable word when it came to describing team rosters for the 2019-20 season. 

With the opening of training camps just around the corner, NBA.com's Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise as it sits today -- in order of regular-season finish from 2018-19 -- as we look at 30 teams in 30 days.

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Today's team: Los Angeles Lakers

2018-19 Record: 37-45, did not qualify for the playoffs

Key additions: Anthony Davis (trade), DeMarcus Cousins (free agency), Avery Bradley (free agency), Danny Green (free agency), Jared Dudley (free agency), Dwight Howard (free agency), Frank Vogel (coach)

Key departures: Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram, Luke Walton, Magic Johnson

The lowdown: Injuries and drama conspired to tag-team and destroy any chances of LeBron James’ first season in L.A. becoming a success by any measure. It was an all-around debacle for a franchise with steep hopes, especially with a superior (if aging) talent in LeBron, who suffered the most significant injury of his career. A persistent and stubborn groin issue limited him to 55 games, and once it happened on Christmas Day, the Lakers were done for all practical purposes. When he returned, they were reeling from the fallout of the failed attempt to steal Davis from the Pelicans at the trade deadline and never mustered any chemistry or determination to save their season.

There were rumblings inside about Walton’s coaching, which was raised publicly by team president Magic Johnson before the holidays. Ball suffered an ankle injury and was held to 47 games while Ingram developed a blood clot that ended his season after 52 games. By springtime, the Lakers were a shell of their opening night dreams and roster. The personnel moves made by Johnson the previous offseason provided mixed results, with Lance Stephenson and Michael Beasley proving especially useless. Then Johnson abruptly quit on the final day of the season. The club had no shooters, LeBron lost the will to play defense and for the sixth straight season the Lakers failed to make the playoffs, a haunting stretch for a club with 16 banners and a proud history of excellence, global recognition and star appeal.

Summer summary: There was only one goal on the checklist and one job for the Lakers to do this offseason, so from that perspective, consider it mission accomplished. Davis is that good and that much of a problem-solver.

Putting aside, for the moment, the price the Lakers paid for Davis, he brings instant credibility, has the unique skills to restore the winning atmosphere at Staples Center, and will arguably be the most talented teammate LeBron has ever had -- which is important with James starting his 17th NBA season.

Davis is perfect for LeBron in so many ways. For a star and talent of his magnitude, Davis’ ego is refreshingly submerged. Meaning, he’s not flustered by the fine print that comes with playing in LeBron’s shadow. Davis hasn’t shown a great desire for attention and seems quite willing to be a co-star in this instance.

 
Anthony Davis is eager to return the Lakers to their championship ways.

Also, Davis’ style of play is very accommodating. He’s highly efficient on offense and doesn’t need 25 shots to score 25 points. His elite defense brings the ability to bail out teammates, LeBron included, for their mistakes. Davis is the rare star who can take command of a game, or go with the flow, and be comfortable in either role.

Finally, this is the biggest plus: Davis is just 26. This is more his team than LeBron’s, if only because, assuming LeBron retires at the end of his contract in two years, Davis will likely still be around. Davis didn’t sign a contract extension once the Lakers made the trade, but consider that a matter of business; there’s no way the Lakers would deliver a massive package for Davis without some assurance from the player that a new contract will be negotiated next summer.

The only question is about Davis’ ability to rise in the postseason. He’s only had two chances to do so -- and in those 13 games, he averaged 30.5 points, 12.7 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and 1.3 steals. Even so, his inability to carry the Pelicans to more than a pair of playoff berths in six seasons was surprising. But he doesn’t need to carry the Lakers or feel the same amount of pressure, at least not this season. (Unless, of course, LeBron becomes injury prone.)

The Lakers had little leverage in the Davis talks because they must win now, before LeBron’s health or contract expires, and the Pelicans knew this. That’s why L.A. had to fork over its future. Ball, Ingram and Hart, three-fourths of a young core that included Kyle Kuzma, are gone, along with a batch of future first-round picks that, in a worst-case scenario, will cripple the club if hard times lie ahead. But that was the price of doing business to get a true game-changer.

With Davis in the fold, the Lakers under new chief Rob Pelinka took a different approach to building the supporting cast than they did under Johnson. Pelinka acquired shooters (Green, Dudley and Troy Daniels). None are among the NBA’s elite, but it was the best the Lakers could do after their failed push to sign Kawhi Leonard.

He also signed Cousins, initially hoping the big man, nearly two years removed from Achilles surgery, would regain his confidence and his game. But, ouch: Cousins never made it to training camp. He suffered an ACL injury during summer workouts and after surgery will likely miss the entire season. It was a major blow to Cousins -- again -- and a potential one to the Lakers. They do have JaVale McGee back. And then there’s Dwight Howard, on hand for a second tour, who suited up for four teams in five years since first leaving the Lakers in 2013. He’s certainly humbled, but can he help, or will he generate drama? That is the concern, and because of that, his contract is non-guaranteed.

 
What will Dwight Howard provide the Lakers this season?

Meanwhile: Walton's days were numbered. And he wasn’t particularly upset at being fired since the job of coaching the Lakers and an aging superstar wore on him, and also because he was immediately snapped up by the Kings.

The Lakers chose Vogel, who had successful seasons in Indiana. Unlike Walton, Vogel comes with experience and like Walton, an even temperament for a job that’ll be pressurized.

A bigger surprise than the choice of Vogel was the choice of his top assistant, Jason Kidd. This instantly gave NBA observers a license to declare Kidd the coach-in-waiting, especially if the season goes south again. While that may not be true, drama followed Kidd at his only two head coaching stops, Brooklyn and Milwaukee, and he makes no secret of his desire to get another shot.

By hiring a proven coach and trading for Davis, the Lakers made clear their goal of going for the grand prize, which they should; such is the byproduct of having LeBron on the team and being on the clock. The roster is mainly loaded with win-now players such as Green, McGee, Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo.

Davis made this possible, and now it’s up to a transformational player to transform the Lakers back to being a team equipped to play in June. 

Coming next: Charlotte Hornets

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Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here , find his archive here and follow him on Twitter .

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.


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