Don’t count out the Lakers yet

The 2021-22 NBA season was an absolute disaster for the Los Angeles Lakers. The storied franchise made some bold and questionable moves during the offseason roster in an attempt to make another championship run with LeBron James leading the way.

On paper, the Lakers looked stacked. Old, but stacked. Five future Hall of Famers led the charge for the Purple and Gold, with Carmelo Anthony finally making his way to L.A., Dwight Howard returning for another stint, and superstar guard Russell Westbrook joining forces with James and Anthony Davis to form an intimidating BIg 3.

Although the consensus was that LeBron would somehow make this somewhat awkward Big 3 work, it never resembled a championship squad.

Westbrook fit like a square peg in a round hole. He couldn’t adapt to his new surrounding and teammates, and at times, he didn’t look like he wanted to due to how much he’d have to change his game to make it work.

The move to trade for Westbrook was risky, to say the least. General manager Rob Pelinka traded core pieces of the team, namely Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, for a notoriously difficult superstar, who played on four teams in four years and owed an enormous amount of money over the next two seasons ($44.2 million + $47.1 million).

As if the price tag of Westbrook’s contract wasn’t glaring enough, the veteran point guard was in complete control due to the second year being a player option. This contract would not be easy to move, as we’re seeing today with no teams willing to take on his $47.1 million as of yet.

Risky and clearly not well thought out, considering the consequences of it not working, but Pelinka made the deal anyway. Many believe it was LeBron that forced Pelinka’s hand.

Regardless of who’s at fault for the current situation, it is what it is, and Lakers fans have to deal with the potential of one more season with Westbrook in the fold.

Even though it seems all hope is lost with James not getting any younger, Davis’ ongoing struggle to stay healthy and a defiant Westbrook refusing to change his ways, it’s not time to throw dirt on this veteran team just yet.

There are a few reasons for hope in Los Angeles, with three that stand above the rest.

No. 3 – Lakers Aren’t Done Making Moves

The clock is ticking with Pelinka and company running out of time, but the team’s direction can change in an instant with another trade or two before the start of the season next month.

Although new head coach Darvin Ham has made it clear that he’ll carve out a role for Westbrook this season, it’s still very possible that the Lakers will trade him in the coming weeks.

The two teams that seem the most likely to make a deal for Westbrook are the Utah Jazz and Indiana Pacers. Both teams are rebuilding and could take on the contract of the veteran guard, with talk of a buyout soon to follow if that does happen.

The deal that has been floated around for weeks (probably much longer) has been Buddy Hield and Myles Turner coming to L.A. in exchange for Westbrook, and two first-round draft picks. The Lakers have been adamant about keeping these picks but may ultimately fold if they feel this season is the last opportunity to compete with a happy and content LeBron.

The other deal would include some package involving players the Jazz are trying to ship out to go full tank move. Former Laker Jordan Clarkson is one of those players, along with veterans Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic.

It’s unclear what the actual trade package would be, but one thing is for sure, Danny Ainge wants as many first-round picks as he can get and will almost certainly be asking for the team’s 2027 and 2029 picks in return.

It may be a tough pill to swallow, but if the Lakers brass wants Westbrook gone and a few more roster upgrades to compete, they need to wave goodbye to those picks to make it happen.

No. 2 – LeBron James is Still an Elite Superstar

At 37 years old (38 in December), LeBron James is still going strong as the face of the Lakers franchise. The veteran forward may have suffered a few more bumps and bruises than usual during his time in Los Angeles, but he continues to hold off Father Time for a bit longer as he strives for a fifth ring and immortal status as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.

Ultimately, the 2022-23 NBA season could be a lot like last season. The Lakers will likely know early in the season if this team can contend for a title or even a playoff spot with the roster as it’s currently constructed.

If it turns out that the Lakers are competitive with all the pieces coming together, it’ll all be about wins and competing in a tough Western Conference. However, this is still a conceivable outcome, and something fans should not give up hope on due to LeBron’s track record of keeping his team relevant and competitive even without the best talent around him.

On the flip side, if it all goes to hell, and it could, it’ll be scoreboard watching for 82 games as James tries to dethrone Lakers legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the league’s all-time leading scorer.

Either scenario will be entertaining for Lakers fans, but a bit of both would be preferable. James can make that happen if he and his fellow superstar teammate are healthy for most of the season.

No. 1 – Anthony Davis’ Health is Where All Hope Lies for the Lakers

It can’t be stressed enough how much the 2022-23 campaign for the Lakers will rely on the health of Anthony Davis. If he is healthy and playing up to his potential, this Lakers team will be a force to be reckoned with and a scary sight for opponents on a nightly basis.

When healthy and engaged on both ends of the floor, Davis is an unstoppable force. He is a massive presence on the hardwood when healthy and out to prove his worth. That was something Lakers fans thought they were getting last year until it all came crashing down with health issues and lackluster effort.

If Davis has gotten his body right and is ready to end all the criticism from his doubters, it will be a memorable season for Lakers fans. Everyone on the squad will feed off his energy, especially LeBron, and the sky could be the limit for this team.

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