The Lakers appear, at first glance, to have achieved their goal of marrying two cornerstones to form a powerhouse. Presenting LeBron James with Anthony Davis means they can start printing tickets to the 2020 NBA Finals.
Suddenly, Lakers fans are dancing on LA freeways, confident after the events of Saturday that their team is destined to end at five the Warriors’ streak of consecutive Finals appearances.
Actually, probably not.
Oh, the Warriors will have to be both magical and lucky — which is conceivable, considering their lack of either over the past couple months — to make it six in a row. Their hurdles are higher than ever, and they know it. Some team will to be good enough to unseat them at the top of the Western Conference and maybe bump them out of the playoffs.
Don’t expect that team to be the Lakers. Before handing them 60 wins and a skate to the conference finals, much less a Larry O’Brien Trophy, consider the magic and luck they are going to need.
Wading past the surface layer and taking a closer look at the Lakers uncovers enough conditions and complications to prevent the raging success visualized by general manager Rob Pelinka upon trading one-third of the team’s current rotation and a considerable portion of its future to New Orleans to add Davis. The Lakers lost Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and Brandon Ingram, as well as three first-round picks, including the No. 4 overall in next week’s draft.
While the Pelicans will have quality young players for the future, the Lakers’ moves are being dictated by the LeBron timetable.
LeBron turns 35 in December. He leads all active NBA players — including 41-year-old Vince Carter — in career minutes. He missed a career-high 27 games last season, some for “rest,” most due to injuries, particularly a groin strain. He’s not getting better. He’s getting older.
The Lakers will be lucky to get 70 games from James next season, and it will require a measure of magic for LeBron to muster the kind of postseason that meets his standard.
As great as Davis is, and there is no denying that, the one knock on him has been his uncanny ability to get injured. He missed 26 games last season, some due to injuries and some because the Pelicans insisted.
Davis, 26, has played seven seasons, missing at least 14 games in all but two. His career high for games played is 75, achieved in back-to-back seasons (2016-17, 2017-18). He has missed an average of 15.4 games per season. He’ll need luck to stay healthy in 2019-20.
To summarize, the Lakers are building around the oldest wheels in the NBA and the league’s most injury-prone superstar.
LeBron’s championship window is starting to close, and Davis alone is not enough to keep it from shrinking.
Unless the Lakers add a Kyrie Irving or a Kemba Walker — both free agents are rumored to be targets for LA — along with a couple shooters, the best they can expect is to be marginally better than they were before LeBron sustained his season-ending injury last December. They were in fourth place in the Western Conference.
Walker is both fabulous and durable. The 29-year-old point guard also has stated a desire to remain in Charlotte, even at a discount.
Irving dazzles more frequently than Walker but also spends more time out of the lineup. Only once in his eight-year career has he missed fewer than 10 games. He missed 15 last season, 22 the year before.
Both Walker and Irving command massive contracts, and the Lakers have a max slot available.
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Other names are being floated, most notably Jimmy Butler, but whomever decides to sign with the Lakers will do so knowing LeBron’s best days are behind him, Davis will spend plenty of time on the sideline and the Lakers are beset with ownership/management problems.
So, let’s not crown them yet. If the Lakers bring in three more quality players, they might have time to compete for a championship. They’d better hurry.