The 2019-20 NBA season is almost upon us, but Hot Take SZN is here, and at the end of another eventful summer we will see how close to the sun we can fly and still stand the swelter of these viewpoints.
We began this series last summer by considering that the Los Angeles Lakers would not make the playoffs, and almost every single one of their red flags — a hapless supporting cast chief among them — materialized in a dumpster fire of a season.
The trade for Anthony Davis certainly addressed the most pressing concern in L.A., providing LeBron James with a co-star and forming one of the great tandems in NBA history, at least on paper. But reasons remain to be skeptical of the roster, especially as the Lakers enter this season with the second-best odds to win the 2020 title, behind only their Staples Center bunkmates.
If you believe the Lakers belong among the championship favorites, you are wildly overrating them as currently constituted.
How could this season become its own trash fire? Let us count the ways.
First, we were already worried about LeBron’s mileage before the worst injury of his career — a groin strain that ultimately ended his 16th NBA season — and I sure don’t feel better about it in a year he is expected to surpass Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant on the all-time minutes list (regular season and playoffs combined), moving behind only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone.
There is an argument to be made that LeBron’s 55-game season and his first playoff-less spring in 14 years will rejuvenate him, much like Michael Jordan’s venture into baseball spring-boarded him to three more championships in his mid-thirties, but Jordan was four years younger with 25,797 fewer minutes — or the equivalent of almost eight fewer NBA seasons — on his legs.
The best argument in their favor is that the arrival of Davis will allow LeBron to idle through the regular season, even more so than usual for a guy who has “perfected the art of resting while playing,” so he is fresh for a playoff run. This theory presumes two more things: 1) That LeBron is comfortable ceding control of his team, and 2) that Davis is capable of bearing that burden.
Everyone is saying the right things in training camp, and skill-wise we know Davis can be that anchor, at least for a second-round playoff team that does not also have the best player of his generation on the roster. If LeBron and Davis stay healthy, it is almost impossible to imagine this Lakers team missing the playoffs, but AD’s injury history — a laundry list of mostly leg and shoulder ailments that have claimed at least 15 games in four of his seven seasons — is somehow even more concerning.
The bigger question is how the revamped supporting cast will fare if and when the Lakers reach the playoffs, because as remarkable as the LeBron-Davis billing is, the Western Conference alone has at least two other superstar pairings with superior depth. The new role-playing Lakers are certainly more playoff proven than the last batch, but they carry their own baggage.
Danny Green and Jared Dudley are now north of 30 and seemingly play even older. Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley were the starting Boston Celtics backcourt for the first half of the franchise’s worst season of the decade — a full six years and however many injuries ago. Any analysis of Quinn Cook and Troy Daniels begins and ends with a debate over whether their defensive limitations negate their 3-point shooting prowess. And Dwight Howard’s career is a series of failed chemistry experiments.
Kyle Kuzma is still on the team, and there is hope that both his continued development and less reliance on him as a primary option will address his efficiency and defensive issues. That hope is somewhat mitigated by the fact that his opportunities to improve with USA Basketball and build chemistry with his new Lakers teammates are limited by a stress reaction that will cost him a good chunk of the summer, maybe the entirety of training camp and perhaps even the start of the regular season.
There is always Alex Caruso. “But Alex Caruso!” Lakers fans will shout from the Hollywood Hills. He is better than most of us give him credit for, if only because most of us cannot imagine that a player with a hairline similar to mine could be all that good. But how comfortable are you riding a closing lineup of LeBron, Davis, Kuzma, Green and Caruso? Mighty comfortable, many will argue, and perhaps even rightfully so, but this assumes all of them are performing at their optimal levels come playoff time.
None of this even accounts for the drama that has followed the Lakers for years now and only increased since LeBron’s arrival. How will the powers that be respond in the ebbs of the season? Will LeBron undermine the locker room by privately or publicly pushing for more help? Do you trust Frank Vogel, Jason Kidd and a coaching staff forced into a strange partnership to broker the peace? And is general manager Rob Pelinka the man you want pulling the strings when the roster requires some tweaking?
A lot has to go right for the Lakers to join a list of contenders as long as we can ever remember, and practically all of it has to go right for them to emerge from that field. I will believe this Lakers power dynamic can put out the dumpster fires when I see it.
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