Your Los Angeles Lakers realized that their 2021-22 role players weren't going to cut it this year. But will their replacements return them to home court advantage in the playoffs?
Beyond Kendrick Nunn (who opted into the second season of his two-year, $10.3 million deal with the team after missing the whole year with a bone bruise), Austin Reaves and Wenyen Gabriel, those folks have been jettisoned this season.
Forwards Anthony Davis and LeBron James are the stars around which others should theoretically orbit. Point guard Russell Westbrook and his $47.1 million expiring contract remain on the team, for now, but his pay is not proportionate to his contributions to winning basketball anymore.
So how much better did Los Angeles get, in adding veteran guards Patrick Beverley and Dennis Schroder, young wings Lonnie Walker IV, Juan Toscano-Anderson and Troy Brown Jr., and springy big men Damian Jones and Thomas Bryant? The team also drafted Max Christie out of Michigan State, and signed two-way players Scotty Pippen Jr. out of Vanderbilt and Cole Swider out of Syracuse, though none of those rookies is expected to contribute per se.
Bill Simmons of The Ringer and Brian Windhorst of ESPN chatted on Simmons's podcast regarding the current state of affairs for LeBron James and the Lakers, following a summer of fringe signings and, as of this writing, no Russell Westbrook trades.
"They did not make themselves better [during the 2022 offseason]," Simmons opined. This writer would counter, saying that the Lakers did get much younger and more athletic, although they still didn't really address "Really the way they're going to get better is if Davis is good."
"They don't have any shooting," Windhorst weighed in.
"Or perimeter defense!" Simmons added. "They're missing the two things that helped them win the title three years ago and they still didn't address it [in the offseason]."
“It's one thing if the Lakers are a disaster," Windhorst noted. "But what if they’re not a disaster, but they’re still not good enough? ... I just don't think they're good enough. As good as LeBron and AD are, they could have good seasons, [oft-criticized mid-level exception signing] Lonnie Walker could be better than we think, Russell Westbrook could not have to be sent home in November, and they could still be in 10th place."
This ominous hypothetical scenario doesn't feel particularly off-base. The Lakers went 33-49 and fell to the No. 11 seed in the West last year. Reloaded, and with hopefully healthier years from James and Davis (and, maybe, perhaps, reinforcements heading to town in an eventual Westbrook deal), L.A. should at least beat that total. But would, say, a 42-win season be enough to avoid the play-in tournament in a stacked conference? Time will tell.