Los Angeles Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka believes this past season was an aberration in terms of injuries to frontline players LeBron James and Anthony Davis that derailed this team in defending their title.
Pelinka can point to a shortened offseason due to COVID-19, creating a condensed window that did not allow his group to develop cohesion and chemistry on the floor.
And L.A.’s 21-7 record to start the season provides some evidence of what the Lakers can be when fully healthy.
Pelinka said his team’s top priority is making sure James and Davis fully recover from nagging injuries that kept them from playing to their potential, leading to an opening-round exit in the postseason.
“We have to pour all we can resource-wise into helping LeBron finalize getting through the end of his high-ankle sprain,” Pelinka said. “And then Anthony Davis of course with the injuries he faced. Whatever we can bring to the table as an organization to help those guys return to 100 percent, that’s going to be a ton of our energy over the coming weeks.
“We know that those guys are both, two of the top two-way players in the world, and will continue to be. And we have to provide all of the resources to be able to continue to keep them healthy and help them operate at the highest level.”
Per an ESPN report, the NBA experienced a significant increase in injuries not related to COVID-19, according to data compiled from last season.
The average number of players sidelined per game due to injury, non-COVID-19 illness or rest this season was 5.1 (includes both teams), according to the report -- the highest since they started tracking it in 2009-10. The next highest season was 4.8, making the 2020-21 season five percent higher.
That number does not include games missed by players in the health and safety protocols.
The Lakers were certainly one of the teams dramatically affected by injuries.
James missed 27 games due to a right, high-ankle sprain and wasn’t fully healthy during the postseason.
Davis missed half the season with a variety of injuries, most notably a right calf strain that forced him to miss 30 straight games in the second half the season.
Davis then sustained a sprained left knee and left groin strain that left him unable to finish the first round on the floor; ultimately the Lakers could not overcome the talented big man’s absence in a first-round exit to the Phoenix Suns.
Despite their injuries, Pelinka remains committed to James and Davis as the team’s core moving forward.
Pelinka has no choice.
The Lakers have over $100 million in salary already on the roster for next season in James, Davis, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma and Marc Gasol. With a projected salary cap of $112 million, it leaves little wiggle room for Pelinka to retool the roster without going over the luxury cap.
“Anthony Davis and LeBron James are championship pillars of this franchise for years to come,” Peilinka said. “Of course, they’re going to be involved with how we build our roster, how we have built our roster.
“They’re both great basketball minds and Frank (Lakers head coach Frank Vogel) as well. I think the cohesiveness in making these decisions with your star players, the head coach and the front office is really important, and that will continue to be our process going forward.”
Still, Pelinka needs to make sure the Lakers have an answer if Davis deals with nagging injuries again next season. The eight-time All-Star has never played a full, 82-game-season in his pro career, one of the reasons NBA analyst Charles Barkley nicknamed him Anthony “Street Clothes” Davis.
“In terms of free agency, we feel like we have a core group of players that can do special things,” Pelinka said. “And I’m convinced that without some of the unforeseen circumstances this year and the challenges we had to face, we’d be a championship-caliber team.
“So, the goal is to try and keep that core group together. Of course, with players like Talen Horton-Tucker and Alex Caruso and Kyle Kuzma -- players that you draft or bring into your two-way system and groom and develop, there’s a level of pride in that, in what the Lakers have been able to do with those players and grow them. So, of course our intentions would be to keep our core together, and to have that championship team.”
Lakers 2021-22 salaries
LeBron James $41.2 million
Anthony Davis $35.4 million
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope $13 million
Kyle Kuzma $13 million
Marc Gasol $2.7 million
Montrezl Harrell $9.2 million
Alfonzo McKinnie $1.9 million
Restricted free agent
Unrestricted free agents