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LA Lakers season preview: We have LeBron James and you don’t

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LeBron James joining the Lakers makes one of the NBA’s most historic franchise more relevant than they’ve been in years, even if they might not be a true contender.

Denver Nuggets v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers are coming off the worst stretch in franchise history. They’re also coming off one of the most successful offseasons in their history though, after landing LeBron James, their biggest free agent since Shaquille O’Neal.

Somehow, though, expectations remain low as many wonder whether they have enough to safely make the playoffs. It’s hard to bet against James, but he’ll need some help from a fairly unproven supporting cast.

Team Name: Lakers

Last Year’s Record: 35-47

Key Losses: Julius Randle, Brook Lopez

Key Additions: Rajon Rondo, JaVale McGee, some guy from Cleveland (it’s LeBron)

1. What Significant Moves were made during the off-season?

Nothing big really. If pressed, maybe there was that whole signing arguably the greatest player of all time thing, but other than that and signing maybe the most meme-worthy supporting cast of all-time, it was a pretty quiet summer.

2. What are the team’s biggest strengths?

LeBron James.

3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?

Lance Stephenson.

Okay, fine, I’ll go a little longer on this one. The Lakers’ actual biggest weakness is probably their depth at center. McGee can’t go longer than 15 minutes or so per game, and third-year big man Ivica Zubac is coming off maybe the most disappointing season any Laker had last year.

President of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general Rob Pelinka said they aren’t concerned about this potential pitfall given the diminished usefulness of traditional centers in the modern NBA, but that doesn’t make this center rotation any less of a gamble. Sure, LeBron might be open to playing center consistently, but that goes against everything we’ve seen from him throughout his career and could overtax him.

If there’s a midseason addition to make, it’s probably at this position.

4. What are the goals for this team?

This is where it gets interesting. On one hand, LeBron has been an annual fixture in the NBA Finals. On the other, the Lakers haven’t been anywhere near the playoff picture in half a decade. So the goal should really be somewhere in the middle — get to the postseason and see if the best player on the planet is good enough to help the Lakers make some noise.

5. What’s the biggest question about this roster?

This Lakers’ roster can be divided into two very clear parts: The young core that was already in place (Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart) and the veterans that were added this summer (LeBron, Rondo, McGee, Stephenson). Typically, teams in playoff races rely heavily on their vets, but in this case, the younger guys are arguably better equipped to play alongside LeBron.

Luke Walton is heading into training camp with a tough task ahead of him. He has a group of veterans signed off on (if not hand-picked by) James, and a group of young guys who make a ton of sense around the team’s new centerpiece. The sooner he realizes this — or, better put, the sooner said young core proves this — the better off this team and organization will be.

6. How confident are you in this team’s coach?

Heading into this offseason, there were somewhat legitimate questions about Walton’s standing within the organization. On one hand, Jeanie Buss has been adamant in her support of the former Laker champion (#InLukeWeTrust). On the other, however, Luke wasn’t a Magic Johnson hire, so it was fair to wonder whether he might take the blame if the Lakers disappoint early.

Fortunately, Magic and Rob Pelinka could not have made it clearer during their pre-media-day press conference that they and Walton are on the same page, even if the Lakers start slow.

Does coaching LeBron James present complications and challenges unique to that situation? Of course, but so long as the Lakers organization is united from the top down, they can take on whatever that might mean and hopefully reap the rewards of having James fully committed to the franchise.