Did the Lakers Tighten Their Hold On the 2021 NBA Title Chase?

Can any team stop LeBron James and the Lakers this upcoming season?
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The Lakers are easily one of the biggest winners of the 2020 NBA offseason. The defending champions traded Danny Green and the No. 28 pick in the draft to Oklahoma City to acquire guard Dennis Schröder. The team also replaced free agents Rajon Rondo, JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard with Montrezl Harrell, Marc Gasol and Wesley Matthews. The team re-signed valuable championship contributors Markieff Morris and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and are waiting to sign Anthony Davis to a new contract. But how do the Lakers’ moves impact the NBA arms race? Do other teams really have a shot to knock L.A. off the throne? The Washington Post’s Ben Golliver and Michael V. Pina discuss the Lakers’ title chances in 2021 in the latest Open Floor podcast.

(Listen to the latest Open Floor podcast here. The following transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.)

Golliver: How are we feeling about competitive balance in the NBA right now? If you’re a small-market team, you're looking at what the Lakers did and you're saying never in a million years would we have been able to get the guys on these prices that they got, right? The rich got richer. If you’re a second- or third-tier team, you’re just struggling to kind of keep your guys. If you’re Denver, you’re watching as Jerami Grant goes out the door. If you’re Boston, you’re watching as Gordon Hayward goes out the door. You know, some of these other teams are just sort of kind of treading water, doing whatever they can to keep up. And here’s L.A. just making this string of transactions that definitely tighten their grip on the title chase. Is that good for the NBA? I mean, it’s not like they’re breaking any rules, but are we in a situation where the competitive balance part is maybe being lost a little bit?

Pina: I don't think so. I mean, I kind of view the Western Conference as even more competitive than it was last season, like I think that this is an arms race. I think that there are some loaded teams out there that have filled some significant holes that’ll be really tough to beat four times in seven tries regardless of what team you are. So I don’t even really see it that way. The Lakers are the defending champions, and I think they had a really good offseason season on paper. I don't necessarily view them as a titanic favorite to repeat as champions, though. I just think there are a lot of really good teams in the West. To your point about competitive balance, I don't think the NBA is really built right now to have a team go on a dynastic run. There are other teams in the West that are very, very good that have made really smart moves to knock the Lakers off the throne. So I wouldn't be surprised either way. But I get what you’re saying and what your point is.

Golliver: Yeah, I guess it's maybe this is more of a concern, not about the second- and third-tier teams who are doing what they can. It’s more like, you know, if you’re a fan of the Charlotte Hornets and you’ve got to pay Gordon Hayward $120M for four years when he’s coming off injuries. He’s already 30, and then you’re just looking at the price that the Lakers are paying for their talents. It just feel like it’s two different worlds. I can understand in general why the Lakers as a franchise would sort of breed resentment and, you know, them coming out of the bubble, winning the title and then immediately being declared the offseason winners by everyone. I think it's going to rub some people the wrong way.