LeBron James has been in Los Angeles for three seasons, and injuries damaged two of them. The third? He won a title. See the trend here? If LeBron and his fellow veterans, Anthony Davis (whose injury cost the Lakers last season) and Russell Westbrook, can survive the obstacle course known as the 82-game grind and remain fresh throughout the postseason, there’s no reason the Lakers can’t add another title in the LeBron era.
The biggest reason for optimism is the arrival of Westbrook. Obviously, there’s no guarantee Russ will be the missing piece, and reasonable doubts were raised when the Lakers obtained him from Washington. Still, for all of his flaws (mostly shooting), Russ is a demon on the court and can relieve LeBron of the ball-handling chores. Plus, LeBron and Davis are easy to compliment, for the most part; neither player demands the ball and in the case of LeBron, he’s the most unselfish big-time scorer in NBA history.
The Lakers clearly are trying to maximize LeBron’s remaining years and that’s why they added Westbrook and also veteran help in Carmelo Anthony, Rajon Rondo and Dwight Howard. It’s a rotation that can measure up to most if not all others in the NBA this season. Unless the grind gets to them.
Beyond LeBron, Westbrook and Davis, the Lakers are putting their faith in a small core of young players, hoping they can fill roles and show growth. Therefore, this is a golden opportunity for Kendrick Nunn and Malik Monk, who arrived in free agency, to hit their stride. Nunn and Monk both showed promise in Miami and Charlotte, respectively, just not enough to gain the full confidence of those teams. What can they do on a win-now club like the Lakers?
The Lakers might treat the regular season with mild urgency. Putting their feet on the gas pedal from October through April could put the health of their ‘Big Three’ in jeopardy. The Lakers especially can’t afford to overload Davis, who pulled up lame in the first round of the playoffs last year which proved costly. It’s possible that LeBron, Davis and Westbrook might be load-managed into playing only 40-45 games together and if the Lakers don’t get best record in the West as a result, they can live with that. It’s all about the championship with this club. Predicted Finish: 49-33.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
Russell Westbrook: The triple-double master is with his fourth team in five years but might also have his best chance to win that elusive championship.
Talen Horton-Tucker: While other young Lakers were let go for various reasons over the years, Horton-Tucker is a keeper and a sleeper, and may be a starter this season.
LeBron James: He’s entering his 19th season and still playing at MVP-level, a testament to his talent, conditioning and also his luck with injuries.
Anthony Davis: Still unable to shake the injury bug which has irritated him throughout his career, Davis hopes to stay healthy and a force at both ends.
Dwight Howard: Back for a third tour of duty with the Lakers, Howard is merely a rebounder and interior defender now.
Carmelo Anthony: Finally united with his pal LeBron, Melo can still hit the pull-up mid-range jumper, but age and defense could limit his minutes.
Trevor Ariza: He won a title in Los Angeles with Kobe and now is trying to do the same with LeBron; he’s still in superb shape and a solid defender.
Malik Monk: He had moments in Charlotte last season but ran into a numbers game on a young roster there; the Hornets’ loss is the Lakers’ gain.
Kendrick Nunn: Much like Monk, Nunn gives the Lakers an infusion of youth and athletic ability and could enjoy a breakout season with the team.
LAST 5 SEASONS
How the Lakers have fared stats-wise over the last 5 seasons …
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
STAT TO KNOW
47.7% — Russell Westbrook assisted on 47.7% of his teammates’ buckets while he was on the floor, the highest rate among 345 players who averaged at least 10 minutes per game last season. LeBron James (39.4%) and Rajon Rondo (37.5%) had the sixth and eighth highest rates, respectively.
— John Schuhmann
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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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