With the 2023 NBA Draft just hours away, the anticipation among the league seems to increase by the hour. Each of the last 5 NBA seasons have crowned a different champion. The landscape of the league is as wide open as it's been in recent memory, and front offices know this.
The top 10 teams in the league will tell you they're just 1 move away from the promised land, and they might be right. And it all starts with the draft. Every move, every signing, and every trade matters with the league as open as it is. And the Los Angeles Lakers, after having one of the biggest turn arounds in NBA history, see that light at the end of the tunnel as well.
Don't call it a comeback
The Lakers have to feel very good about themselves going into the draft and into free agency. First you miss the Play-In entirely, then you come out of the gates the following season 2-10, a franchise worst. No assets, no continuity to look forward to, and your championship aspirations have seemingly come and gone.
From February to May 2023, the Lakers were able to turn all of that into a Western Conference Finals appearance, taking down the 2nd seed Grizzlies and defending champion Warriors in the process. Not to mention having to crawl from 13 to 7, while missing a lot of time from LeBron and D'Lo during the final stretch of the regular season. The Lakers can now build off of the fact that they are a Conference Finals team.
Build on the momentum
Continuity. A word not familiar to the LeBron and AD era. They now can bring back a core group of players that had just built a winning culture within 4 months, something the Lakers hadn't seen for a few seasons prior. The ceiling for this team that was thrown together in February is the WCF.
Now give that same team the opportunity to fine tune the edges, go through training camp, and strengthen the foundation they've carried over into a full 82 game season. But before training camp, before preseason, and before game 1 of 82, how do can the Lakers piece together the best roster they possibly can?
The LeBron and AD window
We are going to be entering that point in time where LeBron's retirement announcement could be any season now. While he does have a player option for the 2024-2025 season, I and many fans are prepared to go into this season with the mentality that this may be LeBron and AD's one last crusade for the Lakers.
We saw the toll that this past postseason took on him and AD physically and mentally. They aren't getting any younger, which is why this season feels like the last real chance for the two stars to bring banner 18 to LA.
With many names linked to the Lakers already, Buddy Hield yet again appears on the radar. That 17th pick is going to be crucial, whether the Lakers trade it or not. Beasley and 17 for Hield and 26 is a popular proposal being thrown around, and I'd do that deal in a heartbeat.
Health concerns aside, CP3 for the minimum as your backup PG is intriguing as well, considering he's dished out 9 dimes a game for Pheonix last year. Then there's the question of what happens with D'Lo? What are the specifics of Rui and Reaves' potential contracts? Then that will domino into the contract exceptions that will be available.
Light at the end of the tunnel
Lots of options, but there's a sense of direction. There's a clear goal for this franchise. Something you couldn't have said back in January. But look for teams like Sacramento, Golden State, the Clippers, Pheonix, etc. to be just as hungry to improve.