Every season in LakerLand starts with the expectation of winning a title — or at least it should. Any roster headlined by LeBron James can’t settle for less, especially if Anthony Davis is also along for the ride. But the Lakers have challenged the basketball gods by once again surrounding James and Davis with a roster that doesn’t exactly optimize their gifts, and there will be an uphill climb for the Lakers to return to the postseason, much less enter the ranks of contenders.
The team has one card left to try to improve its roster, and Rob Pelinka elected to keep that card in his back pocket to wait for a more perfect moment. That means the Lakers are an unfinished product heading into 2022-23 even as James continues to chase historical benchmarks in the twilight of his career. Surely, nothing could approach the disastrous season that the team experienced in 2021-22, but the Lakers are nothing if not dramatic, forever the greatest entertainment product in the NBA.
Roster Additions: (deep breath) Patrick Beverley, Troy Brown Jr., Thomas Bryant, Max Christie, Damian Jones, Scotty Pippen Jr., Dennis Schröder, Cole Swider, Juan Toscano-Anderson, Lonnie Walker IV
Roster Losses: Carmelo Anthony, D.J. Augustin, Kent Bazemore, Avery Bradley, Wayne Ellington, Talen Horton-Tucker, Dwight Howard, Stanley Johnson, Mac McClung, Malik Monk
Last season’s record: 33-49
Last season’s conference ranking: 11th in the West
Last season’s offensive rating: 110.3
Last season’s defensive rating: 113.3
What’s the ‘Best Case’ scenario?
Number 18. Why settle for anything less than passing the Celtics?
Even with the strongest of rose-colored glasses, however, it’s hard to see a vision of this team that reaches that pinnacle. A best-case would be the Pacers relenting and sending Myles Turner and Buddy Hield to L.A. for only one first-round pick, and a more balanced defensive dynamo version of the Lakers picks up steam as the season goes along but bows out in the second or third round of the playoffs.
What’s the ‘Worst Case’ scenario?
A continuation of 2021-22. Russell Westbrook once again proves to be a catastrophic fit next to the team’s superstar duo, both of whom aren’t on the court often enough to impact winning. There’s infighting among all of the similarly-sized perimeter players competing for the same guard minutes, but none of them actually play well enough to edge each other out. The rest of the West jumps out so far ahead of the Lakers that their best hope is the play-in tournament, and even then, the Kings edge them out for the 10th spot, finally giving Mike Brown revenge for being fired by L.A. five games into the 2012-13 season.
What’s the ‘Most Likely’ scenario?
LeBron James puts together another all-NBA season (the fact that this is likely in year 20 is truly wondrous). Davis excels as a full-time center, punishing teams as a dynamic roller and propping up a much-improved defense. Westbrook is blah, but there are enough suitable replacements on the roster for that not to matter. The Lakers get just enough shooting from the likes of Patrick Beverley, Austin Reaves, and Kendrick Nunn to put together a league-average offense. The team is comfortably within the postseason picture and hosts a play-in game to advance to the playoffs.
What are you most excited for going into this season?
The return of Anthony Davis. Had a Western Conference Finals MVP trophy existed back in 2020, there’s a good chance Davis would have been hoisting it instead of James, as he was at his absolute peak in the 2020 postseason. Maybe that iteration of Davis never reappears, but he’s shown more verve during the preseason than we’ve seen in a while, and Darvin Ham’s spacing principles are designed to give Davis room to work. Hopefully, 2022-23 is filled with Davis dunking on people’s heads, throttling opposing guards in the pick-and-roll, and rediscovering some of his touch on that midrange jumper.
Predicted record: 42-40
Predicted conference seeding: 8th in the West