With the NBA now in its offseason, our team got together to answer some of the biggest questions surrounding the association.
Having just won a title under the strangest circumstances in league history, the Los Angeles Lakers have a potentially dynasty-shaping summer… ahem, winter ahead of them… So, can the Lakers go back-to-back next season?
Matthew Wellington: The Lakers can absolutely go back-to-back, because having LeBron James basically allows you the freedom to print a Finals ticket. Joking aside, LeBron James isn’t done yet and Anthony Davis may just be getting started. Before they begin their title defence, several key questions have to be addressed, the first being what will Anthony Davis’ contract look like? Then there’s countless questions revolving around their supporting cast, their combined age and the fact that Rob Pelinka pulled a rabbit out of the hat with salary cap logistics last season.
Heading into the offseason, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope ($8.5 million), JaVale McGee ($4.2 million), Avery Bradley ($5 million) and Rajon Rondo ($2.6 million) all have player options and literally no reason to opt out.
However, Jared Dudley ($2.5 million), Dwight Howard ($2.5 million), Markieff Morris ($1.7 million), J.R. Smith ($289,803) and Dion Waiters ($503,656) are all pending unrestricted free agents. There’s good reason to bring back Dudley, Howard and Morris, but J.R. and Waiters may find themselves looking for a new home next season.
Sean Guest: Winning a title is hard, but repeating is even harder. Still, the Lakers should be favourites to win it all again in 2021. LeBron James, who continues to defy the aging process, will be hungry for another ring, while Anthony Davis is expected to opt-out and re-up over the offseason. With cap space limited around the league, and the Warriors and Nets unknown quantities at best, the Lakers’ hopes will likely rely on Rob Pelinka’s ability to use whatever flexibility he can muster to surround them with the right players to do it all over again.
While they won’t be in the running for any of the offseason’s best free agents without a serious reshuffle, the bulk of their vets look likely to return, albeit another year older. If they do want to mix things up, Jared Dudley, Dwight Howard and Markieff Morris could all be sacrificed for more ball-handling and perimeter scoring though.
Elsewhere, Danny Green’s $15 million deal doesn’t look great, but he’s a 38 percent career three-point shooter who’ll be looking to bounce back in 2021. Alex Caruso and Kyle Kuzma should offer organic improvement next season, or, if necessary, useful trade assets if the franchise opts to go after a third star. Meanwhile, if Kentavious Caldwell-Pope opts out of his current deal it’ll be to the detriment of the roster following his solid play in the bubble.
Sid Mohapatra: Yes and no. Yes, because LeBron James and Anthony Davis showed how much of an inside-outside threat they can be when working seamlessly together. Their combination of size, strength and versatility allowed them to adapt to their competition, making them a matchup nightmare no matter the opponent.
No, because if there’s one thing we’ve learned from their Finals series against the Heat, it’s that it takes far more than just James and Davis singing in unison to muster up a win.
The Lakers must make re-signing Davis their top priority before they look to bring back other pieces like Bradley, Caldwell-Pope, Rondo, Morris and Howard.
Ger Deegan: It’s a difficult question to answer. In theory yes, they probably can because LeBron James and Anthony Davis are two of the three most dominant players in the league at the moment, but I still feel to repeat you need to have a little more in the surrounding areas.
I think the fact that James and Davis played such a momentous role in the championship meant that the lack of depth on roster overall was overlooked. If the Lakers are to win back-to-back titles they will seriously need to take a look at their group as a whole and find support for LeBron and Davis.
Harry Harrison: Absolutely. I tried to pull a Skip Bayless and put a ridiculous take on how many games it would take the Lakers to beat the Heat, but here I won’t mess about. LeBron James is still the game’s best player and Anthony Davis may well be the best big. They do however have room for improvement further down the roster, but this is the Lakers we’re talking about. No role player will refuse to play for them should they come calling. If the right offer is on the table, the Lakers could really improve their team with a few bench acquisitions.
Chinedu Udezue: Yes, they absolutely can. But will they? I’m not so sure. Any team that has LeBron and Davis is good for around 50 plus wins and a postseason appearance is guaranteed. But the team as currently constructed is a prime candidate for ‘The Disease of More’, a term coined by Pat Riley. I’m struggling to see Howard, Morris and Waiters being on their best behaviour for another year and not pushing for more shots, more prominence etc. Plus, the Lakers got incredibly fortunate with the way the playoffs shook out (Clippers upset, Heat injuries), so we’ll see. Re-signing Davis will be key and I’m not sure how much that will leave for the deadly shooter they desperately need (I’m not buying Danny Green stock!). So yes, they can absolutely run it back, but I’m not betting on them doing so.
Tom Hall: I’m going to go against the flow here and say no. You can’t argue that LeBron and Davis are the best duo in the NBA, but looking past them on the roster and things look desperate. Of the players that cracked the rotation in the Finals, only Caldwell-Pope, Caruso, Kuzma and Davis are under the age of 31, and a decline in production from the rest of the team seems inevitable.
Outside of their two stars, how many would fetch above $10 million a year in free agency? None. With the return of the Warriors and the moves that the rest of the league will surely make this offseason, the Lakers need to fill out their depth to solidify themselves as favourites next season.
Justin Quinn: When we’re talking about repeating as champions, it’s important to recall that this isn’t the norm, historically speaking.
I’ve been burned betting against LeBron James enough to have sworn off the practice until he gives me a concrete, tangible reason for doing so, and that reason has yet to materialize in his 35th year. Especially as we just witnessed his Lakers go from laughingstock to hanging banners in the course of a season.
Gone is the bumbling-if-loveable Magic Johnson, general manager, the palace intrigue in the Buss family and a roster too young to know how to focus long enough in the postseason to take home a title. They’ve been replaced with seasoned vets and two top-five players. And while James has found ways to change his game to suit his age, Anthony Davis, the other superstar on the roster, is just hitting his prime. In fewer words, the engine is just shifting gears.
If anything, another offseason will give the Lakers time to rebalance their roster even further, having tested their strengths and weaknesses while making the best case in the league as to what signing with them can produce. And while the odds will be against them pulling it off, take it from a lifelong Boston Celtics fan that there are few if any teams better positioned to win it all next season.