If Laker fans were looking for a reason to start the “We Believe” narratives for the 2021-22 season, Tuesday’s annual survey of general managers provided more than enough ammunition. The yearly piece put together by John Schuhmann of NBA.com surveys all 30 NBA general managers on a number of topics related to the title, free agency and rookies and, this season, featured a fair amount of praise and expectations for the Lakers as a team, but not nearly as much individual recognition.
The Nets were overwhelming favorites to win the NBA title, earning 72% of the vote. The Lakers were a distant second at 17%, but were voted first in the Western Conference on 80% of the ballots. One GM, though, voted the Lakers to finish fourth in the Western Conference.
No, really, that is not a joke.
That sets the tone for many of the other questionable results of the survey, most of those dealing with Anthony Davis. Despite long establishing himself as one of the best defensive players in the league, Davis was only among the “received votes” section for the league’s best defender, was third in voting as the best interior defender behind Rudy Gobert and Giannis Antetokounmpo, and received no votes as the league’s most versatile defender. All of it should serve as more fuel for the “angry” revenge season his teammates say he’s gearing up for.
LeBron James did receive some props, but in a more roundabout way. Without any positional guidelines to go by, James received votes for the league’s best point guard (7%), small forward, (17%) and power forward (27%), leading to him being named the league’s most versatile player. He also was named the player with the highest IQ, tied for first with Nikola Jokic as the league’s best passer and was voted third place in voting for the most versatile defender and second as the league’s best leader.
James also received zero votes when it came time to predict the 2021-22 MVP after being one of the frontrunners last season prior to his injury. Kevin Durant, following an incredible playoffs and Olympics, was the top vote-getter at 37% followed close by Luka Doncic — who also dazzled at the Olympics — at 33%. Antetokounmpo received 13% of the vote after winning Finals MVP in the spring. Joel Embiid, James Harden and Steph Curry rounded out the rest of the votes.
In a “What have you done for me lately?” type of landscape, James finishing behind a host of players who shined in the playoffs is unsurprising and understandable. But also as someone who only needs the smallest of slights against him to get motivated, don’t be surprised if James adds this to his figurative bulletin board.
When it comes to the offseason, Russell Westbrook to the Lakers was second in voting as the one player acquisition that’ll have the biggest impact this season behind Kyle Lowry to the Heat. He was first in the most surprising acquisition of the offseason, earning 50% of the vote ahead of DeMar DeRozan to the Bulls.
As a team, the Lakers finished second as the team that made the best overall moves this offseason, receiving 17% of the votes behind Miami’s 47%. The Lakers were also tied for second as the team that will be most improved this season, level with the Warriors at 13%, and behind the Bulls (first at 27%).
Frank Vogel also featured in the survey, though again not quite as highly as he likely should have been. Less than a year removed from winning an NBA title, Vogel did not receive enough votes to make the top five of coaches who make the best in-game adjustments, and received no votes as the league’s best coach. And, again, despite coaching the league’s No. 1 defense last season amid a host of injuries and the league’s No. 3 defense in 2019-20, Vogel was voted just fourth in the league’s top defensive coaches ranking.
Ultimately, these surveys hold very little bearing. Similar to the end-of-year voting for the league’s top GM, fellow general managers can be some of the more petty people in the league. These surveys are a fun peak at how general managers view players, teams and situations around the league but, clearly, shouldn’t be held in any sort of regard.
But if you think that’ll stop us from starting another #WeBelieve narrative, then you are sorely mistaken.
So save your receipts. It’s time for “We Believe: Vol. 3.”