Once they ended the 2021-22 NBA season with a 33-49 record and a missed Play-In Tournament appearance, the Los Angeles Lakers made immediate changes. The Lakers fired coach Frank Vogel only two seasons after he helped them win an NBA championship. The Lakers then hired Darvin Ham, who had earned strong respect as a former dependable NBA role player and for his multiple gigs as an assistant coach. The Lakers then tried to construct a better roster around LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
L.A. spent all summer deliberating about potential deals involving Russell Westbrook after he exercised his $47 million player option. Despite harboring mixed feelings about how LeBron, Davis and Westbrook co-existed amid varying playing styles last season, the Lakers expressed optimism that Westbrook could improve if James and Davis stay healthy. The team faced complications as it gauged the market on Westbrook. Other teams had questions about Westbrook’s play following last season’s struggles. They also stayed firm on not offering any more than one first-round pick in potential deals.
Otherwise, the Lakers improved on the margins because of limited spending tools stemming from salary cap rules. The Lakers pursued younger players instead of retaining their veteran-laden free agents after they showed issues last season with their durability and athleticism. Yet, the Lakers remained aware that their young newcomers (Lonnie Walker IV, Troy Brown Jr., Damian Jones, Thomas Bryant and Juan Toscano-Anderson) could not fully address their issues. They also dealt two young players (Talen Horton-Tucker, Stanley Johnson) to Utah for a player that could irritate opponents, make shots and elevate his teammates with his infectious intensity (Patrick Beverley). Only two seasons after struggling during a first-round playoff exit against Phoenix, Dennis Schröder reunites with the Lakers on a veteran’s minimum deal.
Can James, Davis and Westbrook coexist? They contended they would have last season had they played more than 21 games together. The Lakers went 11-10 during that stretch, but they also struggled when Westbrook played with only James (25-30) and with only Davis (17-22). The Lakers also went 0-5 with Westbrook as the No. 1 option. The Lakers believe such issues won’t arise this season if James and Davis stay healthy. That might be wishful thinking, though, given James’ mileage, Davis’ injury history and Westbrook’s struggles with adjusting his role.
James and Davis will spend more time on the court than they did last season. Ham will impact the Lakers better than Vogel could with his voice and rotations. And the Lakers will benefit from adding more youth. Nonetheless, they still do not have enough to return to NBA title contention. Westbrook will remain an awkward fit, even if he accepts Ham’s coaching and has more on-court time with James and Davis. The Lakers at least won’t end their season in April. But both this franchise and James measure their success on if they play through June. Projection: Playoffs.
1 KEY STAT TO KNOW
31.8% — Anthony Davis shot 66.3% in the paint and had an effective field goal percentage of 34.5% on shots from outside the paint. That (31.8%) was the biggest differential among 258 players with at least 100 field goal attempts both in and outside the paint.
— John Schuhmann
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
Russell Westbrook: His attitude and adaptability will largely determine if Westbrook has a bounce-back season.
Kendrick Nunn: After missing the 2021-22 season with a bone bruise in his right knee, Nunn can climb up the Lakers’ depth chart if he replicates the shooting he displayed his first two seasons in Miami.
LeBron James: He will defy Father Time and set more milestones when he plays, but can James reduce his time in the training room to heal injuries?
Anthony Davis: The Lakers are curious to see if Davis can stay more durable and play more aggressively.
Damian Jones: He can help the Lakers as a lob threat and rim protector, but Jones often struggles with avoiding foul trouble.
Patrick Beverley: He will bolster the Lakers’ identity with his attitude, shooting and perimeter defense, but will the Lakers become comfortable with elevating Beverley’s role even at Westbrook’s expense?
Dennis Schröder: He appears motivated to rectify how his first stint ended with the Lakers in 2020-21, but will Schröder receive consistent playing time in a crowded backcourt?
Austin Reaves:The Lakers might benefit from granting more minutes to Reaves, whose improvement with his strength and 3-point shooting could help the team’s spacing.
Lonnie Walker IV: The Lakers believe Walker’s athleticism can help them on both sides of the floor, but he needs to show more discipline with his shot selection and defense.
Thomas Bryant: The Lakers have become encouraged with Bryant’s mobility nearly 20 months after tearing his left ACL with Washington.
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
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