Will it work out for LeBron and the Lakers this time?
Everything was supposed to be better when LeBron James arrived in Los Angeles prior to last season. The Lakers’ talented youngsters would learn from and be inspired by ‘The King’; the painful playoffs drought since 2013 would come to an end; and the next golden future would begin in Tinsletown.
We all know how things turned out. James was forced to sit a large portion of the season due to injuries for the first time in his career. He distanced himself from his teammates and seemed more preoccupied with the filming of “Space Jam 2” than the Lakers, who fell apart during his absence and became the joke of the league – once again missing the playoffs. There was also the shocking news of Magic Johnson stepping down and all the bickering within the Lakers management.
Fast forward to the start of the 2019-20 season and the expectations are very high even though almost everything – and everyone – has changed. LeBron, of course, is back, and with a mindframe of re-establishing himself as one of the game’s most durable players – not to mention one of its best.
But the Lakers went through a complete overhaul. After botching a trade for Anthony Davis during last season, LA’s leaders finally got the move done early in the off-season, shipping away Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram and three first-round picks to create a new one-two powerhouse punch in Lakers Land of LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
But this season’s team also has an entirely new look. Head coach Luke Walton was sent packing as were Isaac Bonga, Moritz Wagner, Reggie Bullock, Tyson Chandler, Mike Muscala, Johnathan Williams and Lance Stephenson. The only other players back besides James are Kyle Kuzma, Alex Caruso, JaVale McGee, Rajon Rondo and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. And the rest of the new-look Lakers? Welcome to LA Avery Bradley, Quinn Cook, DeMarcus Cousins, Troy Daniels, Jared Dudley, Danny Green, Kostas Antetokounmpo, Demetrius Jackson, Talen Horton-Tucker and Zach Norvell Jr.
Also back in Los Angeles is Dwight Howard after a buyout from Memphis with a non-guaranteed deal for the 33-year-old, who last played for the Lakers in 2012-13. Howard and McGee will be in charge of rebounding, defending the post and finishing around the basket – eating up the minutes that ‘Boogie’ Cousins was supposed to before tearing his ACL shortly after signing his deal.
But this team is clearly about what LeBron and ‘AD’ can do. Davis is an MVP candidate who has forgotten the nasty trade demand which ended up imploding both the New Orleans Pelicans and the Lakers. Now, it’s purple and gold time for Davis, who gives LeBron a No. 2 who is arguably the best big in the game with his dominating defense, mid-range shot, drive to the rim, post-up game, ball handling and help defense.
Team up the ‘Unibrow’ with ‘King James’ and Lakers fans can dream of easy buckets with shooters awaiting on both sides of a pick-and-roll – and plenty of wins. James is still the most complete offensive player in the league with his scoring, passing and leadership. If the new coaching trio of Frank Vogel, Jason Kidd and Lionel Hollins want to maximize their troops, they would be best served with James at the point and Davis at center – though ‘AD’ isn’t thrilled about playing the 5. Still, that is the Lakers’ most dangerous line-up: James, Davis and three Three-and-D wings.
The best of the latter grouping is Danny Green. The 32-year-old comes to Los Angeles after helping the Raptors win the NBA title – his second following his ring with San Antonio from 2014. Green will get plenty of playing time, most likely being asked to guard the opposing team’s point guard or best wing as well as shoot from long range, where he has hit 40.4 percent for his career.
Kuzma is a strong scorer, who might come off the bench and allow Green to start at small forward and Bradley as shooting guard as an elite defender. The rest of the bunch though is mainly role players filling the rotation.
The Los Angeles Lakers are back with James, Davis and a three-point sharpshooter. Sure there are question marks. What will come of the Howard experiment? What role will Rondo have? What about the match-up problems which will come on defense? The defense will be the biggest difference maker between a very good team looking at about 50 wins and one with realistic title ambitions.
by FIVE Magazine #162 – NBA Preview 2019/20