The NBA season is fast approaching and the Lakers are once again expected to be one of the league's best. As training camp nears, most pre-season polls have them firmly within the top 5 teams before even taking the court.
In the latest Sports Illustrated rankings, the Lakers come in at #3 with only the Brooklyn Nets and world champion Milwaukee Bucks ahead of them. The Utah Jazz and the Phoenix Suns round out the Top 5.
While there is no way to predict how the NBA season will play out – along with the fact that this will be an almost entirely new Lakers team – there is enough already in place for people to view this team as the best in a very crowded Western Conference. Injuries were a big reason for their early playoff exit last season, but had they been fully healthy, many believe that they would have bounced the Suns in the first round en route to a second consecutive finals berth. Instead, the team was left searching for ways to improve in the hopes that an early exit wouldn't happen again in 2022.
The Lakers were one of the league's best teams last season when fully healthy, but they still decided to blow it all up in hopes of writing a better ending this time around. Now that Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, and a quartet of ex-Lakers have been brought on, the expectations are that this team will be just as competent.
Many critics have pointed out the Lakers' age as a potential problem during the season. LeBron and Carmelo are 36 and 37 respectively, and many of their role players are also on the wrong side of 30. Still, there is plenty of reasons to believe that James and Westbrook will be able to bring out the best in these players for at least one season. The current roster may seem like they're closer to retirement than they are to their primes, but it is never a good idea to count out LeBron James when he's on a mission.
We are about to witness what could be one of the most compelling NBA seasons in recent memory. There are at least 10 teams with legitimate title hopes and at least twice as many who have a realistic shot at a playoff berth. Through it all, however, there will still be teams who stand above the rest. The Lakers, as they should be, will be expected to lead the way out West.