The Los Angeles Lakers are hoping to end their five-season long playoff drought this year after signing LeBron James and keeping their young core intact. However, the Lakers have also made it clear they don’t want to just make the playoffs, they’re hoping to win it all next year.
In an interview with John Ireland and Mychal Thompson on ESPN LA 710, Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka and head coach Luke Walton talked about their lofty expectations for the team and the steps that it’s going to take to get there.
For his part, Pelinka made it clear the Lakers are always trying to win a title, but that contextual progress this year can’t go overlooked:
“Well, I think it depends on how you define success. There is one goal, and we’ve talked about that: It’s to win a championship, and we’re going to play for that this year. Our fans, Jeanie, Magic, Luke and I, that’s our goal, is to win a championship every year.
“But there are other components of success too. Part of that is just the progression. I think we owe our fans the chance to experience playoff basketball in L.A. again. It’s been five years. That’s too long. And so that’s something that we really want to do.”
When asked if he thinks the Lakers are contenders, Walton said he thinks they can be, but that getting to that level may take some time:
“September 7th? Probably not. But do I think come April, come playoff months? I think absolutely we are. It takes time. You never just put a team together and they’re instantly a championship contender but that’s what the regular season is going to be all about this year, and that’s what these guys coming in every day, playing together and getting to know each other and lifting weights together is about. So I think by the time the season comes and goes and we get towards the playoffs if all goes the way we plan on then I truly believe we are.”
No team in NBA history has ever gone from not making the playoffs to winning the NBA championship the following season. The LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers almost became the first team to accomplish that tremendous feat in 2015, but they lost to the Golden State Warriors in six games.
Could James try and pull off the impossible once again this year with the Lakers? There’s always a chance, but it’s unlikely.
When James nearly upset the Warriors in 2015, he had the help of NBA All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. In fact, had Irving and Love been healthy for that Finals series, there’s a decent chance they would have pulled it off.
Unless one of the young guys makes a serious leap or the front office makes a blockbuster trade, the Lakers won’t have a player anywhere near Irving or Love’s caliber next season. The following season might be a different story, though.
After buying out and stretching Luol Deng last week, the Lakers are expected to have close to $38 million in cap space next summer to spend on impending superstar free agents such as Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, DeMarcus Cousins and Klay Thompson.
Perhaps the Lakers won’t win a championship next season, but the front office has set the team up to contenders sooner rather than later. As LeBron James said, “It’s an exciting time for us in L.A.”
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