There are a variety of reasons the Lakers continue to dominate discussions in hoops circles. Fresh off a season in which a top-shelf ranking turned into a disappointing absence from the playoffs, the purple and gold believe their 2022-23 campaign will be much, much better. Wishful thinking? Perhaps. If nothing else, their poor record since the formation of an updated Big Three showed the inability of resident stars LeBron James and Anthony Davis to incorporate the singular talents of former Most Valuable Player awardee Russell Westbrook. And because the latter owns a virtually untradable contract, correcting the mistake in the wake of declining numbers seems like a stab in the dark.
Don’t tell that to James and Davis, though. No doubt, it’s because they believe an adequate supporting cast is all they need to contend. And with new head coach Darvin Ham angling to make their partnership with Westbrook work, they view their immediate future with optimism. Which is all well and good when they’re around. Unfortunately, they’ve both become susceptible to injuries of late, with their prolonged convalescence further crimping the Lakers’ capacity to keep pace with the established elite. Preseason predictions have the 17-time champions at 17th and on the fringes in the Western Conference.
There was once a time when the mere presence of James ensured a playoff berth. Needless to say, that time has passed, and not simply because parity is at an all-time high. He’s not only 37; he’s an old 37, with a whopping 63,000 minutes in his odometer. And even as his mind remains sharp and able to directed offenses and deconstruct defenses, he’s no longer as athletic and as durable in his prime. Which, in a nutshell, means he needs more help than usual.
The problem, of course, is that Davis, to whom James plans to eventually cede the spotlight, has proven to be equally, if not more, susceptible to injury. It’s why they convinced Westbrook to come on board in the first place; the third marquee name was supposed to ease the burden of playmaking, not to mention step up into a starring role when one or both of the primary options are not around. And it’s why the Lakers are trying to find ways to make the collaboration work as intended. In the final analysis, how they are able to — or not able to — will shape their fate.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.