The Los Angeles Lakers finished the 2017-2018 season with the 11th seed in The Western Conference. They won only 35 games, losing 47 despite this being the season they were expected to make the playoffs. Instead, their season was overshadowed by Lonzo Ball’s rookie season and Lavar Ball’s loud mouth. The emergence of Kyle Kuzma was a bright spot for this team though, averaging a healthy stat line of 16.1 points, 6.3 rebound, and 1.8 assists per game. Brandon Ingram also showed glimpses of stardom when he started at point guard for a short stretch this season. And although Lonzo’s rookie season was average at best, he had games that showed a lot of promise for his future. In one game against the Warriors he put up a double-double, and in another game scored 24 points, along with 5 rebounds, and 5 assists. Lonzo proved that he could hold his own under tough competition. But as the season came to a close so did the Lakers chances of making the playoffs. That’s when the attention shifted aside from the team and towards free agency and the concept of LA-Bron arose.
Although the season was disappointing, free agency wasn’t the only exciting thing for Lakers fans! The Lakers finished as the 21st best team in the NBA based on their record, but the impressing part of this team was their defense. They had the 13th best defensive rating in the NBA! For such a young team to prioritize defense the way they did is impressive, and the defense should only improve with their new acquisitions. Another statistic that Laker’s fans should be enthusiastic about is their pace. In today’s NBA everyone is trying to ditch slow-paced basketball and inhabit a faster pace. The Lakers were top three in pace last season, averaging about 103 possessions per game. You have to appreciate a team that doesn’t take long to get a shot off.
Nearly three months after their season came to an end, Lakers fans spoke LA-Bron into existence! On the second day of free agency, Lebron James agreed to a 4 year $153 million deal with the Lakers. They beat out teams such as the Philadelphia 76ers and Houston Rockets, giving hope to Lakers fans that LA is finally a top free agent attraction again. But this signing was huge, they signed one of the best players to ever play this game, if not the best, on a long-term deal. As for his legacy in LA, it will never match Kobe Bryant’s and it shouldn’t. He will never win five championships with the Lakers, and at the end of his career, he will mostly be known as Cleveland’s guy. But Lakers fans should also be very thankful that Lebron chose to play for LA. Soon after Lebron signed, others followed him to LA to help him take down The Golden State Warriors. And in the matter of a few weeks, the Lakers went from a lottery pick team to the biggest contender to take down the Warriors. But before we discuss what awaits for the Lakers, we first need to go over the moves they made.
- Lebron James 4-year, $153 million deal
- Rajon Rondo 1-year, $9 million deal
- JaVale McGee 1-year, Veterans Minimum deal
- Lance Stephenson 1-year, $4.5 million deal
- Michael Beasley 1-year, $3.5 million deal
- Resigned Kentavious Caldwell Pope 1-year, $12 million deal
Although they lost players like Isaiah Thomas and Julius Randle, and they couldn’t acquire either Paul George or Kawhi Leonard whether it is through trade or free agency. If I were to grade their free agency, I would give them an A+! The players they lost this summer were never a part of their future. They signed the best player in the game to a long-term deal. And not to mention they got great bench players on great deals as well, and if any of them underperform they are free agents the next year so it wouldn’t waste precious cap space. Rondo is a starting quality point guard, he was the reason the Pelicans got to the second round of the playoffs last year. Lance brings heart and defense to the squad, he will definitely bring players like Harden and Curry problems in the playoffs if they meet. And Beasley could get a quick bucket whenever they need one from the bench. He is a player that a lot of teams that even hope on contending to make it out of their conference should have picked up. Without a doubt this free agency went beautifully for the Lakers but how good did they really become?
The Lakers have a young promising starting lineup but this is the same line up that managed to finish as the 11th seed prior to the addition of Lebron. In his last two teams, Lebron James has played with at least another All-Star on the team. But with the Lakers that is not the case. Lebron is a playmaker so he usually needs shooters around him, but this Lakers team did the antithesis, they surrounded Lebron with even more playmakers. JaVale McGee is their best option at center, and will probably start for this team. Although he hasn’t played badly in the recent years for the Warriors, they still started Zaza over him. This team clearly has its flaws but on the bright side, it has four years to get it together for Lebron.
As for the regular season, I predict that the Lakers will go through their ups and downs. The media will obviously narrate the story that the team is dysfunctional after every bad loss just because all eyes are on LA. And even though this team is hard to place, they could place anywhere between the two seed and totally missing out on the playoffs. In my opinion, though, they will finish as the third seed right behind the Warriors and the Rockets. They do not have the firepower in their starting lineup to match up with either of those two teams, but they have a better bench than both of their benches combined.
This Lakers team will strive in the playoffs more than in the regular season for the simple fact that they will focus on one team at a time. With players like Lebron, Rondo, and Lance, the Lakers will need no more than one game to figure out how to get under their opponent’s skin and exploit their weaknesses. Brandon Ingram will play a huge role in this team as well, if he could just make the push from a good player to a star this season, it might just give the Lakers a healthy chance to make the finals. The only question that remains to be answered is if they have the personnel to pull off a run to win the Western Conference, and ultimately become champions. Sadly I do not believe they will accomplish that this year. Although I enjoy watching Josh Hart play, he is their likely starter at shooting guard next year. That doesn’t convince me that this team has the talent needed to win a championship. The Lakers ceiling for this year is to reach the second round and ultimately get eliminated by the Houston Rockets. But there is always the other three seasons that Lebron is with the Lakers for them to achieve the ultimate goal.
Baseline Times Contributor