It’s no secret that the 2018-19 NBA season was a train wreck for the Lakers. It began as a season of hope with James’ arrival but quickly became a drama-infested, underachieving 82-game stretch.
Whether it be James supposedly pushing management to pull the trigger on a trade for Davis at the NBA trade deadline — which would’ve essentially sent half of their roster to the New Orleans Pelicans — late-season injuries to Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, Magic Johnson stepping down as president, or talk of Luke Walton being jettisoned from his head coaching duties, the Lakers were a fire that couldn’t be put out.
The Lakers did their best to put out that same fire this offseason. Firing Walton to eventually hire Frank Vogel as head coach and trading Ball, Ingram, Josh Hart, three first-round draft picks, a first-round pick swap, and cash to the Pelicans for Davis, they reshaped their personnel for the better.
James and Davis are two of the 10 best players in the sport, and they’re going to be wearing the same uniform; there’s going to be no stopping this duo once they get into a groove. They’re each adept at attracting the bulk of opposing teams’ defensive attention and scoring in a plethora of ways. Sure, they’re each frontline players, but they won’t get in each other’s way.
James will handle the rock, facilitate for Vogel’s offense, and draw double-teams by attacking the rack. Meanwhile, Davis has become a better outside shooter in recent memory and can serve as a dominant inside player, allowing James to pass it inside if nothing else is available. From a talent standpoint, they’re going to be the best star duo in the NBA. It’s going to trickle down to James’ relationship with Vogel and how the two stars mesh with the rest of their roster.
Fortunately for their sake, general manger Rob Pelinka did a plausible job of getting players who complement and fill holes around James and Davis’ games — and kept some players from last season who do the same.
Avery Bradley is a reliable scorer who stretches the floor and plays tight on-ball defense; Danny Green is an accomplished outside shooter and perimeter defender; Jared Dudley is a sticky defender who can hit outside jump shots; Dwight Howard could be a vigorous spark off the bench inside; Kyle Kuzma has shown a continued ability to be a go-to scorer; Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is a steady two-way player; JaVale McGee is an athletic big man who can serve as a rim protector; Rajon Rondo is tenacious player who possesses a knack for finding the open man.
So what’s making people hesitate crowning the Lakers as the soon-to-be Western Conference champions? Their Staples Center mates, the Los Angeles Clippers, and the potency of the conference, as a whole.
Last season the Clippers won 48 games and took the five consecutive conference champion-Golden State Warriors to six games in the first round of the playoffs despite trading away their top scorer, Tobias Harris, before the NBA trade deadline. How did they follow up their impressive season and first-round playoff matchup? Oh, just by adding Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
Now they sport a rotation that’s made up of Leonard, George, Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, Patrick Beverley, Landry Shamet, Maurice Harkless, JaMychal Green, Rodney McGruder, and Ivica Zubac. The Clippers added two great players after being credited for an impressive season, while the Lakers added one great player after an ugly season.
That slightly minimized the attention on the Lakers acquiring Davis. The entire conference going haywire this offseason and some teams coming off great seasons did the same.
Despite losing Kevin Durant to free agency, the Warriors still have Stephen Curry, D’Angelo Russell, and Draymond Green to begin the regular season; the Denver Nuggets young core has come into its own, and they claimed the two seed in the conference last season; after making it to the Conference Finals, the Portland Trail Blazers acquired Hassan Whiteside; the Houston Rockets have James Harden and Russell Westbrook; the Utah Jazz added Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic in the offseason.
James suffered a groin injury in a December 25 matchup against the Warriors last season, which sidelined him until January 31. Beforehand, the Lakers were 19-14 and holding onto the fourth seed in the Western Conference; his absence began the team’s downfall. When James returned, the Lakers were 26-25, and even in the games he played down the stretch, they were a mess and never got into a rhythm, eventually missing the playoffs at 37-45.
It’s difficult to say the Lakers are the team to beat in the West. But if they and the six aforementioned teams are universally healthy and firing on all cylinders, James and Davis have as good a chance as any team in the conference of making the NBA Finals.
There may be some growing pains, as having two high-profile players on the same team can take some time to do damage, as they get accustomed to each other’s tendencies. Meanwhile, there’s the lingering question of what Davis is going to do next summer when he hits the open market based on how he didn’t sign an extension after being dealt to the Lakers. Throughout the process, you can expect James to look to get on the same page with Davis.
If Davis wants to play as big a role in the offense as James, they’ll make it work. If Davis wants to get a lot of touches in the post, they’ll make it work. If Davis wants a $100 gift card to Applebee’s, James will comply. James and the Lakers want to be all in on Davis for the short and long-term.
The Lakers are going to be lethal this season. While loud noise seeps throughout the entire conference, the Lakers have the capability to generate as much disturbance as the field.