Several decades ago, Pat Riley — the head coach of the Showtime Lakers and legendary NBA executive — coined the phrase “The Disease of More” to describe the malaise that can set in after a team wins a title, or alternately, how players will all start to go in other directions and care about things other than winning once they’ve won.
The primary disease the Lakers will be trying to dodge this season will be the coronavirus, but the basketball-specific pandemic Riley warned about way back in the day is an issue every champion that wants to repeat has needed to avoid during their title defense.
Lakers veteran Jared Dudley isn’t worried about this team being able to do so for a variety of reasons, but the biggest one of them is that Anthony Davis just secured a five-year, $190 million maximum contract to stay with the Lakers for five more years, and now that he has the money and a ring, he’ll be looking to add to his trophy case.
“I’m expecting AD to go for the MVP. I’m expecting him to set the tone. We know LeBron, his years playing in this league and the accolades he has, but AD doesn’t have some of those accolades,” Dudley said on Zoom during his first remarks to the media since training camp began.
“He has the talent, he has the determination, so I’m expecting AD to set the tone early,” Dudley continued. “There might be games he has to miss on back-to-backs, that’s okay, but he’s 27, he should have been Defensive Player of the Year. He’s the future, and he’s the now.”
Davis is certainly poised to be both of those things now that he’s locked up on a long-term deal. The Lakers will have to be sensible and make sure not to overextend him, but he showed during the playoffs in the bubble that he has the scoring ability necessary to chase an MVP, especially when it’s coupled with a skillset that already makes him arguably the best defender in the entire NBA. Big men might not have been favored in the MVP race for a long time, but Davis certainly has the versatility necessary to buck that trend.
But Davis’ numbers are also not the team’s most prudent concern. That’s making sure that they repeat, something Dudley says is on the whole team, even if he expects Davis to take the lead there.
“It’s for us to stay focused, and for AD to set the tone early and these young guys that are new to the team to fall behind and find out their roles early on,” Dudley said
If Davis can go out and do that, he has the talent to make an MVP within the reach of his already prodigious wingspan. He’ll just have to choose to go out and chase it. And if that pursuit is what gets the Lakers through the regular season slog and keeps everyone engaged during their attempts to repeat, then hey, no one is going to say no to a little extra hardware at the end of all of it.