The Los Angeles Lakers are entering the season with the highest expectations they’ve had in what feels like a decade — but is actually only like five years — thanks to the arrival of LeBron James in free agency, but they also still aren’t quite considered true title contenders because of the existence of the Golden State Warriors.
The Warriors’ presence looms over the entire NBA, with the seemingly unstoppable superteam’s reign not looking set to come to an end any time soon.
That reality seemed to hang over a recent comment from Lakers owner Jeanie Buss, who wasn’t asked about the Warriors expressly, but it’s hard not to believe she might have made a more confident prediction about her team if Golden State didn’t exist.
Still, Buss thinks that Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson has helped the Lakers close the gap and inch nearer to raising their 17th banner (via the Daily Breeze):
“About the championship, I can’t make any promises, but I believe in Magic and that’s who’s leading us,” said Buss.
Right now there aren’t a whole lot of reasons not to believe in Magic, both in the sense of what he’s done for the Lakers since taking over less than two years ago, and in the sense that Johnson might actually have magical powers to have helped turn the Lakers around so fast.
Johnson called his shot last summer, clearing the most cap space in the NBA by using D’Angelo Russell as bait to dump Timofey Mozgov and his albatross contract on the Brooklyn Nets. Then Johnson managed to convince James, maybe the best player ever, to sign on the dotted line on the first day of free agency.
With enough cap room to pursue another max contract star next summer as Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant and Jimmy Butler (among others) enter free agency, it’s easy to see that the Lakers at the very least have a decent shot to build a true title contender, and soon.
Plus, while everyone is down on the Lakers’ chances to win a championship this year due to an overhauled roster that no one is truly sure how seamlessly can fit together, all it takes is this being the year Golden State succumbs to fatigue or an injury for LeBron and L.A. to look like they have as good of a shot as anyone. The Warriors winning the title still might be the most likely outcome entering the year, but nothing in the NBA is ever guaranteed (even if it seems like it, and for good reason).
Either way, this year or next, the Lakers certainly look set to compete for the first time since their doomed 2012-13 campaign, and that’s a step in the right direction. Buss is right to have confidence in Johnson, because he’s basically given her zero reason not to yet.
You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.