This past summer, the Los Angeles Lakers put themselves in prime position to be one of the biggest leapers in expected win differential after inking the biggest name on the market in LeBron James, who despite coming off his 15th NBA season, had arguably his best individual playoff run of his career.
While a team with James would traditionally been automatically penciled in to the upper echelon in terms of Eastern Conference seeding, many analysts and those affiliated with the league have questioned and picked against the star now that the King has moved out west.
The most recent skeptic of the Lakers’ ranking this upcoming season is Daryl Morey, the polarizing and analytically inclined general manager of the Houston Rockets.
Talking about the Los Angeles Lakers’ outlook next season with the addition of James, Morey said, “I would expect, I hope, that we’re ahead of them and I would expect Golden State to be ahead of them.”
However, Morey also reiterated that he’s never going to rule out the chance LeBron goes supernova:
“But I would never count out a LeBron James team. He is the greatest ever in my mind.”
While Morey’s prediction may seem sacrilegious for Lakers’ fans, there is some validity to the line of thinking, specifically in the regular season.
For one, the Lakers will have a total of at least eight new players on guaranteed contracts on the roster, including James. Between the new faces and the still developing young core, there will be an expected adjustment period with the normal growing pains that come while the players and coaching staff learn to mesh together.
And although James singlehandedly puts the Lakers in the conversation of contention, the Western Conference should still be as brutal as ever before, leaving no easy wins to come by.
The reigning NBA champion Golden State Warriors arguably only got better with the addition of star big man DeMarcus Cousins. The Utah Jazz are likely to have improved with budding young superstar Donovan Mitchell continuing to grow alongside a healthy Rudy Golbert.
The Denver Nuggets will finally get to see what the frontcourt pairing of Nikola Jokic and Paul Milsap looks like beside their talented perimeter pieces. The Minnesota Timberwolves will get back Jimmy Butler for a larger chunk of the season, and the always reliable San Antonio Spurs theoretically just added DeMar DeRozan to a team that won 47 games last season.
Morey’s Rockets, on the other hand, were one of the few Western Conference teams that took a step back this summer.
The team lost two of their most instrumental players from last season in Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute, absences that will be felt on the defensive end as their replacement Carmelo Anthony is not expected to offer much assistance in filling their void. Despite this, the team still does hold the star trio of James Harden, Chris Paul, and Clint Capela, which should pick up most of the regular season slack in the wins department.
With all that being said, the Lakers may indeed finish the season behind the Warriors and Rockets in the standings like Morey predicts, but if the young core and veterans hit their groove right as they enter the postseason, the Lakers could be on the verge of being one of the most frightening three-to-eight seeds in recent memory with James at the helm.
As Morey said himself, you can never count anything out when LeBron is involved.
You can follow Alex on Twitter at @AlexmRegla