The stench of last season couldn’t evaporate quickly enough for the Lakers, who had visions of playing deep into May, yet were finished by February.
It was a combination of embarrassment and disappointment for the tinsel franchise, which welcomed LeBron James and then saw, in horror, him injure his groin in the Christmas Day game. After that, the season was never the same again. He played only 55 games due to a combination of the groin plus rest. Furthermore, the Lakers tried and failed to swing a deal for Anthony Davis at the deadline, and the drama that preceded that attempt served to suffocate the locker room, where players cast a wary eye toward LeBron.
Coach Luke Walton was distracted all season by grumblings from LeBron’s camp. He was placed on alert after the first month of the season by then-team president Magic Johnson. With the club spiraling toward yet another non-playoff finish, the fitting end came on the season's final day when Johnson abruptly resigned without telling owner Jeanie Buss. It was that kind of season, but at least a potentially exciting summer beckoned.
> 30 Teams in 30 Days: Los Angeles Lakers
In his youth, late ownerJerry Buss was a world-class poker player who cleaned out more than a few folks. His former team decided to push all of its chips to the center of the table by swinging the long-awaited deal for Davis, sacrificing its future in the process … Frank Vogel replaced Walton as coach and brings the experience that Walton lacked (and the Lakers' front office craved) … DeMarcus Cousins suffered a torn left ACL during summer workouts and, coupled with his repaired Achilles, you wonder if this is it for the former All-Star … The Lakers addressed their shooting need, signing Danny Green, Jared Dudley and Troy Daniels
1. Under royal protection.The Lakers invented the term “load management” and they’ll most likely apply it extensively this season, definitely with regard to LeBron. His minutes will be watched closely as the Lakers certainly can’t afford another mishap if they have any plans to compete for a title.
2. True point guard role. Vogel would be wise to take the ball out of LeBron’s hands and give it to Rajon Rondo. It’s too much of a chore at this stage to ask LeBron to be all things, and anyway, Rondo has the respect of LeBron. Rondo also played alongside Davis two seasons ago in New Orleans. in Besides, what else is Rondo gonna do?
3. The Kuz cruise. Expect LeBron and Davis to give Kyle Kuzma plenty of room and opportunity to shine. It’s in their best interest to let Kuzma grow and gain confidence, rather than have him develop a “third-wheel” mentality (even if, technically, that’s what he is). At some point in the post season they’ll need him.
MAN ON THE SPOT
Dwight Howard has made over $200 million in the NBA, so it’s not like he’s hurting for cash (for all we know, anyway). That said, he’s one of the few former superstars whose contract isn’t fully guaranteed. It’s not really about the money in his case, it’s about reputation and how he wants to be remembered. He’s on his sixth team in six years and left behind lots of failed expectations and questions about his character. With Cousins out, Howard can restore some of what’s left of his shine by shagging rebounding a lot and keeping the drama low. Otherwise, the Lakers can cut bait and move on without much pain.
LeBron James | 27.4 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 8.3 apg
Still a premier star after 16 seasons but health is suddenly a topic.
Anthony Davis | 25.9 ppg, 12.0 rpg, 3.9 apg
MVP-level talent now has a superstar teammate and should be refreshed.
JaVale McGee | 12.0 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 1.5 bpg
Comes off his best season in years and sheds some of his quirkiness.
Rajon Rondo | 9.2 ppg, 8.0 apg, 5.3 rpg
Pass-first point guard should thrive with multiple options on the floor.
Kyle Kuzma | 18.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 2.5 apg
A young talent on the rise will likely get open looks next to AD and LeBron.
Dwight Howard | 12.8 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 0.4 bpg
Skills are fast declining but he remains a deluxe rebounder.
Danny Green | 10.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 1.6 apg
A reliable 3-point shooter for a team that’s thirsty for floor-spreaders.
Jared Dudley | 4.9 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 1.4 apg
Gives the bench yet another shooter along with Green and Daniels.
THE BOTTOM LINE
LeBron and Davis are Hall of Fame-bound players in their prime, a duo that will put the opposing team on red alert and cause major problems. That in itself will put the Lakers among a small and select group of title contenders, assuming of course that LeBron and Davis remain healthy. Realistically, the Lakers should improve by at least 15 wins in 2019-20. Plus, the two appear ready and willing to develop great chemistry, so that shouldn’t be an issue. The Lakers’ season will be decided by the supporting cast -- whether they can ease the load of LeBron and Davis and also come up big when needed. Of course, there’s also the question whether the Lakers are even the best team in L.A. What say you, LeBron and AD?
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