The reality is the Lakers simply aren’t good enough
As it stands, despite being down 3-0 in the Western Conference Finals after Saturday’s 119-108 loss to the Denver Nuggets, the Los Angeles Lakers have had a pretty good season.
Last season, after poor roster construction, a lack of depth, injuries and old age cost them a trip to the postseason, things looked hopeless. In the first half of this season, after starting 2-10 and being able to get to .500, things still looked bleak.
Then came a slew of midseason trades that netted Rui Hachimura, D’Angelo Russell, Jarred Vanderbilt, Malik Beasley and Mo Bamba. Suddenly, L.A. was born again, and it looked like it had at least a puncher’s chance of reaching the NBA Finals in a wide-open West.
But the Nuggets have made it clear that the team simply isn’t there yet.
The Lakers haven’t been able to stop the bleeding when Denver has gone on big runs. It went on a 13-0 run to take control of the fourth quarter of Game 3, and it was a 15-1 spurt that turned Game 2 upside down.
The reality is clear now: It simply wasn’t meant to be this season for the Lakers.
The Lakers are one or two pieces short of a full puzzle
Early in the season, the Purple and Gold had two big weaknesses: 3-point shooting and frontcourt or wing depth.
Many thought the team addressed both problems with its midseason trades. The thinking was that Beasley, who had shot 38.9 percent on 6.5 3-point attempts a game in the previous four seasons, would be a huge boon in that department along with Russell.
But Beasley has turned out to be a bust, and although Russell played very well in the regular season and well enough in the first two rounds of these playoffs, he has been bad in this series.
Moving forward, L.A. needs a couple of dead-eye 3-point shooters. Right now, its only dependable outside shooter is Austin Reaves, who has played very well all year and also against Denver.
Although Rui Hachimura is shooting 50.0 percent from downtown in this series, he is only averaging 2.0 such attempts a game.
Could Lonnie Walker IV be one of those shooters the Lakers need? He has done fairly well since reentering their rotation in their prior series versus the Golden State Warriors, and he hit 2-of-4 shots from beyond the arc in Game 4. But he may be a bit too expensive for them to re-sign this summer.
At least one man who will do what Beasley was expected to do on a regular basis will be needed. If nothing else, such a player or players will spread the floor and give LeBron James and Anthony Davis more freedom to attack the paint.
Such a player or players would also allow the Lakers to blunt the type of runs Denver has put on them in these last two games.
Too much, too soon
As remarkable a job as the Lakers and their executive Rob Pelinka did of remaking the roster at midseason, there is simply no real modern precedent for a team making so many changes in the middle of a campaign and winning the NBA championship.
In the 1994-95 season, the Houston Rockets traded Otis Thorpe, a key member of their team, for Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler. At the time, they weren’t playing too well, but despite finishing fifth in the Western Conference, they won it all.
However, the key difference was that they were the defending champs and still had most of the other key players remaining from their 1993-94 roster.
The Nuggets, as well as the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat, the two Eastern Conference finalists, have been together for a few years. Therefore, they have a higher level of chemistry and know how to respond to and play with each other, as well as how to react to a multitude of real-life situations.
Los Angeles simply isn’t there yet. But the good news is that, with some roster tweaks and a healthy, elite James next season, it should have a good, actual shot at banner No. 18.