There are differing opinions on whether or not the NBA season will ultimately resume, but whether it does or not, it’s clear that — among other, much more serious consequences — the stoppage that the coronavirus forced the league and the entire country into could not have hit at a worse time for the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Lakers had just beaten the two other biggest threats to win the title — the Milwaukee Bucks and LA Clippers — and very much appeared to be cresting at exactly the right time for a title run. If the season gets cancelled, Lakers forward Jared Dudley thinks it may take away the team’s best (but not only) shot at a championship.
Dudley broke down why he thinks so in a Q and A with Michael Lee of the Athletic:
I don’t care what anyone says, regular season games, they’re all not the same. Games October, November are different than March, going into April, before you shut it down in the playoffs to set the tone for how you are. So for us, you’re right, you think about next time. Even next year, there is no better time than us being five games up in this, everybody healthy. That’s one thing we’ve been good at, our health has been phenomenal this year. So you have that, with our defense. Yeah, you could be more talented, but just because you have more talent doesn’t mean you’re better. So, for us, I’m not going to say this is it.
Even if we win the championship next year, that’s not saying this would not have been our best chance. This would have been our best chance to win, even if you go into the future. The optics and everything was set up. We’re going to have homecourt and we don’t know how it would’ve been. Milwaukee might lose a few more games. We might have caught them. Probably most likely not, but you just don’t know. The momentum we were carrying going into it, it’s hard to repeat that. You see LeBron James teams. He’s had teams that were No. 1. He’s also had teams that slipped up in the regular season and then caught wind in the playoffs. You don’t know next year, we may be the three seed. Yeah, we may beat these other teams in the playoffs, but it’s a lot easier when you have homecourt throughout.
First of all, Dudley is dead-on about most of this. Teams never want to give up a real shot at a title, because the future is unpredictable, and even teams that look poised for greatness for years to come can (and often do) fall apart more quickly than anyone would ever expect.
That noted, we should also point out that it’s not all doom and gloom (strictly from a basketball perspective) if the season gets cancelled, because the Lakers are set up at least decently moving into the future.
Sure, it’s unknown if LeBron James can reach this exact level again after another year of aging, but it’s also not certain he can’t. Beyond that, it’s hard to see Anthony Davis leaving the Lakers at this point — the cap dropping as a result of all this revenue lost may even convince him to reverse course and opt-in to the final year of his deal, who knows — and he’s only 27 years old, theoretically leaving him a bit of room to grow. So that’s the core of the team, relatively intact and balanced going into next season whether this one continues or not.
The other factors helping the Lakers next year is that they’ll get access to the full mid-level exception in free agency (whenever that is). No one knows exactly how this stoppage is going to affect the numbers for the cap, or how much exactly that exception will be worth as a result, but it will be a weapon for the Lakers to potentially nab a value contributor (just maybe not as much of a weapon as it would have been had the NBA and entire world economy not just tanked).
Also, remember how the Lakers were relatively hamstrung at the trade deadline this year because basically everyone on their roster had veto power over trades for varying reasons mostly relating to them being in the first year of two-year deals? Yeah, well, that won’t be the case anymore, giving the Lakers a handful of expiring contracts to use in trades to beef up their supporting cast, or to target a disgruntled superstar, or even to take on money from teams that were more hurt financially by this stoppage and want to cut player salary. It feels somewhat callous to think about in the middle of this, but these are real potential consequences worth considering for down the line.
There is also the small matter that all those expiring contracts also open in free agency in 2021. You know, the year when some guy named Giannis Antetokounmpo — and several other stars — are set to be free agents and could potentially join Davis (and maybe even Old Man Bron) in L.A. for the season after next.
So while yes, Dudley is right in the sense that one never knows if the Lakers can recapture this exact magic again, and it would undoubtedly suck if the team was not able to finish what they started this year, not all hope is lost. The Lakers are (in theory and on paper at least) just as well or better positioned to attack the future than they were this season, so that is at least still some small hope to think about during a time when there has generally been a shortage of optimism.