The NBA will officially return to action on July 31, with 22 teams set to play eight regular-season games before setting the playoff seeding and beginning a postseason that could potentially end with Game 7 of the NBA Finals on Oct. 12. The Los Angeles Lakers will be one of the teams to watch during this unprecedented postseason as they could very well be the team hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy in a few months.
With the Lakers having a four-month hiatus before getting back on the floor, three players on the team, in particular, will benefit the most from the time off. Although no one truly knows what condition the players are in or the kind of product we’ll see on the basketball floor once games get back underway, these players likely used their time wisely and weren’t scoffing at the fact they had some time away.
3. Avery Bradley
When locked in and healthy, Avery Bradley is among the best defensive-minded guards in the NBA. The veteran journeyman is a pest in the backcourt and can cause problems for opposing guards, which is why the Lakers were willing to take a chance on him after he bounced around the league the last few years.
Bradley has been quite injury-prone during his NBA career, leading to teams not having faith in his ability to stay healthy. He has played 60 games or more only five times in his career and has only played 55 games or less on the last four teams he has been on.
Fortunately, Bradley has been able to stay relatively healthy this season, playing in 49 of the 63 games played by the Lakers before the hiatus. Still, this lengthy stretch without playing can only benefit the veteran guard, who has battled ankle issues at times this season.
2. DeMarcus Cousins
Although he’s technically no longer part of the team after being waived in favor of signing Markieff Morris back in February, DeMarcus Cousins remains an option for the Lakers. He chose to continue rehabbing from his knee surgery with the team and has been a favorite in the locker room among players and coaches during his time in Los Angeles.
With Cousins having an extra four months to get back to form, the veteran center becomes an intriguing option for the Lakers. The team initially waived Cousins because they didn’t believe he’d be able to participate in the playoffs. That stance may have changed after this unexpected and potentially beneficial hiatus that has given him the added time to get his body prepared for a playoff run.
A healthy Cousins would be a significant addition to an already dominant frontcourt for the Lakers, which showcases Anthony Davis and Dwight Howard. He can stretch the floor with the best of the bigs in the league while also being a presence in the paint and being a vocal leader, which may be even more valuable now even just from the bench due to having no crowd noise.
1. LeBron James
At 35, LeBron James is still going strong. He’s in his 17th season in the NBA and has yet to show signs of a significant decline on the basketball floor. Although James is still playing at an extremely high level and remains in the conversation for NBA MVP, the veteran forward needed a break from basketball more than anyone in the league.
Last season, the Lakers missed the playoffs in LeBron’s first year with the team. This sixth straight postseason absence for the franchise can be directly linked to James suffering a groin injury on Christmas Day, which he never fully recovered from and ultimately ended his season.
Despite the disappointment in missing the playoffs, it was a blessing in disguise for the future Hall of Famer. No active player in the league has more minutes or games played in the postseason than LeBron, and rest was sorely needed. The same could be said for this hiatus period after he played in 60 of the 63 games for the Lakers while also remarkably leading the NBA in assists for the first time in his career at 10.6 per game.
LeBron will have rested for four months before getting back on the floor, and that could give him an enormous advantage heading into what will almost certainly be another long playoff run. The perennial All-Star could be rusty much like many other star players in the league at this point, but he’ll be fresher than ever when the ball is tipped on July 31 as the Lakers try to pave their way to the franchise’s 17th NBA title.