This offseason will end or boost this era of Lakers basketball

The Los Angeles Lakers fizzled out of the 2024 NBA Playoffs on Monday when they fought hard but lost to the Denver Nuggets in Game 5 of their first-round playoff series.

It was the second time in their six seasons with LeBron James they have exited in the first round of the postseason. Two other times during that span, they failed to make the playoffs altogether.

For that reason and others, this offseason will be a very pivotal one for the franchise.

It seems like this is how every recent season has turned out for the Purple and Gold — a hugely disappointing finish, followed by a pivotal offseason. But this time, the offseason will truly be one that will shape at least the next few years for the franchise.

Appearances notwithstanding, the Lakers aren’t far off from being a championship-caliber team, at least on paper. The problem is that several of their key players could be goners this summer, starting with James.

He can turn down his player option for next season and become a free agent this summer. While it seems likely he will do so, it doesn’t seem extremely likely he will leave the Lakers, especially since he has two sons playing organized basketball in the area who could have real NBA potential.

On the other hand, one never quite knows what to expect from James. He always seems to secretly plan out his next NBA move years in advance and is always discreet and passive-aggressive about his plans.

In addition, starting guard D’Angelo Russell, forward Cam Reddish and big men Christian Wood and Jaxson Hayes have options they can decline to become free agents this summer. Wing Taurean Prince and guard Spencer Dinwiddie will become free agents once the new league year arrives.

If James stays, the team’s championship window will remain open, at least for the moment. But it needs at least one moderate upgrade in order to truly be in the discussion for next year’s Larry O’Brien Trophy.

There has been lots of talk that Atlanta Hawks star guard Trae Young and Cleveland Cavaliers dynamo guard Donovan Mitchell could be prime trade targets for the Lakers this summer. The problem is that either man would cost lots of capital, including quite a bit of draft capital. In addition, acquiring either one would render the Lakers a very top-heavy team with little or no salary cap wiggle room to field enough supporting talent.

On the other hand, some deft maneuvering by general manager Rob Pelinka could still result in a deep enough roster surrounding James, Anthony Davis and someone such as Young or Mitchell. Such a roster could end up being considered a co-favorite for the world championship once next season commences.

But if James leaves, the Lakers will enter rebuilding mode. It would then be anyone’s guess how long it would take them to land another all-time great superstar.

Hard-core Lakers partisans believe it would only take a couple of years for their team to land someone such as Anthony Edwards, Luka Doncic or even Victor Wembanyama. While that could be within the realm of possibility, the changing NBA landscape has made it even more difficult for a team to land that type of talent, let alone build a championship team around such a player.

Los Angeles could easily go decades before it lands its next transcendent star once James leaves.

Then there is the matter of beleaguered head coach Darvin Ham, whose job is reportedly in jeopardy after his team won just 47 regular-season games despite sporting one of the NBA’s more talented rosters.

Do the Lakers fire Ham, knowing that, at least right now, there may not be someone better who wants the job, or do they keep him, even though multiple reports have suggested that his players don’t trust or respect him enough?

There is seemingly never a dull moment when it comes to the Lakers. But one wrong or unfortunate move this summer could result in them having no shot at winning another NBA title for many years.

At the same time, if they perform a masterclass, they could be on their way to hanging banner No. 18 at this time next year.

Story originally appeared on LeBron Wire