After a first-round exit in this year's playoffs, the Los Angeles Lakers have a lot to think about.
If you're a Lakers fan, there was a lot to cheer about heading into this season. After winning the championship in 2020, the franchise has seemingly improved the roster. After bringing in Montrezl Harrell, Marc Gasol, and even Dennis Schroder, the team appeared to have more of an edge compared to their 2019-2020 roster. Not to mention, LeBron James and Anthony Davis were coming into the season with a year's worth of chemistry under their belts, which has to count for something.
For the most part, the beginning of the season went as planned. The Lakers were battling for the number one seed in the Western Conference and aside from maybe the Clippers, there didn't seem to be any teams that had the purple and gold figured out. Then, February happened. This is around the time that Anthony Davis got injured. His calf and ankle problems became a real issue for the team and it forced him to miss a significant amount of time. This ultimately put a huge burden on LeBron, who had to carry a team that frankly looked lost when AD wasn't on the court. During this AD-less stretch, LeBron got injured and it put the Lakers in a severe hole that eventually forced them into play-in position for the postseason.
In typical LeBron fashion, he led his team to victory and for the most part, it seemed like his team had a real chance against the Phoenix Suns. After Game 3, they even had a 2-1 lead in the series and many pundits had the Lakers in the driver's seat. Once again, the injury bug struck and the Lakers lost Davis, which pretty well ended the Lakers' chances of moving on. The Suns blew out the Lakers in Game 5 and 6, and now, LeBron, AD, and the rest of the Lakers are sitting at home, where they are planning their vacations as the playoffs continue on without them.
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Despite winning a championship just a season ago, the Lakers are currently at a crossroads. They have LeBron locked up all the way until 2023, while Davis becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2025. As for the rest of the team, players like Dennis Schroder, Alex Caruso, Andre Drummond, Markieff Morris, and even Talen Horton-Tucker are all free agents. This means the Lakers front office has a lot to figure out, especially when you consider how their window is quickly closing. Let's face it, LeBron is the leader and backbone of the team, however, he is 36 years old and by the time his contract runs out, he will be 38. While James has done a phenomenal job at defeating Father Time, he only has so many years left before it catches up to him. Once this happens, the Lakers window will have officially run out, which leaves the franchise with a very limited amount of time to find LeBron and AD some high-caliber teammates. This also begs the question: can LeBron and AD win another title together?
When it comes to the sports world, anything can happen. Of course, this isn't exactly an answer more than it is a cop out. To answer the question truthfully, however, it will all come down to what the Lakers decide to do in the offseason. As for their current crop of free agents, young players like Caruso and Horton-Tucker would be smart to keep considering they are solid pieces that will continue to develop. As for Schroder, Drummond, and Morris, these are all players the team should either let walk, or use for a sign-and-trade scenario. Quite simply, Schroder and Drummond were abysmal for the Lakers and they would be much better off going after other pieces. Not to mention, if they were to use them in a sign-and-trade, they could very well get themselves a third star who would be the Chris Bosh of the Lakers big three. With teams like the Brooklyn Nets turning into a dominant super power, it's clear that franchises like the Lakers need more than just two stars, especially when said stars are injury prone.
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Not to mention, the Western Conference is becoming a very scary place. The Utah Jazz look like a juggernaut this season, all while the Phoenix Suns have figured it all out with Chris Paul. The Denver Nuggets are also extremely strong and if it weren't for Jamal Murray's injury, this team would be bonafide title contenders. Add the Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Clippers into the mix, and you have yourself an absolute mindfield to traverse. With LeBron aging and Davis proving to be unreliable from a health perspective, the Lakers have absolutely no chance to get back to the Finals, if they don't get a third star. As it stands, there are reports that Damian Lillard could very well become available, although this is more of a fantasy than anything else. Realistically, the Lakers have very limited options, and it will be up to General Manager Rob Pelinka to come through with some magic in the offseason.
This is not to take anything away from LeBron and AD. Both players are among the best in the NBA and when all is said and done, both will go to the Hall Of Fame, all while LeBron will remain one of the best players to ever step on a basketball court. Having said that, it's important to remain realistic, and for now, the likelihood that both of these men will win a title together in Los Angeles again, remains very slim.