One could argue there are better teams built around superstar duos (for example, the one down the hall at Staples Center), but there is not a better two-man combo in the league this season. LeBron will have the ball in his hands, will be more of a facilitator making smart decisions, and Davis can do literally anything after setting a pick for LeBron — pop out, roll to the rim, get the ball and find the open shooter in the corner, whatever the defense gives him. Plus defensively Davis is the kind of versatile rim defender who can switch out and slow guards on the perimeter that can be in the running for Defensive Player of the Year.
The Lakers are title contenders because of those two.
However, the Lakers are far from a lock. There are also two main issues that could derail Los Angeles’ chances at adding a 17th title banner to their collection.
LEBRON VS. FATHER TIME
LeBron James is a physical freak of nature, one of the most gifted athletes ever to play the game — and it puts in the work to maximize it. His conditioning is impeccable. LeBron spares no expense and puts in the time: He works out right, recovers right, eats right, gets sleep, and listens to what his body is telling him.
He’ll also turn 35 in the middle of this season and is already fifth all-time on the total minutes played in the NBA list (counting regular season and playoffs), and by the time this next season ends he likely moves into third (passing Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant). That’s a lot of miles on his Nikes.
Last season was the first time LeBron went through any kind of serious injury, missing 17 games after suffering a groin injury on Christmas Day. That period is when the Lakers’ season collapsed.
That injury also is an outlier in LeBron’s career — but will it be going forward?
LeBron had more time away from NBA basketball this summer than he has since the summer of 2005 (his second in the league), and the optimistic argument is that extra time off to rest and heal his body will lead to a healthy bounce-back season (with some load management thrown in). There’s some logic to that. But we also know Father Time eventually wins every race, the question for the Lakers is can LeBron hold him off for another season (or two)?
The Lakers simply cannot afford to lose LeBron for any length of time, or have his skills and efficiency erode much. He’s L.A.’s best shot creator and it’s not even close, they also need his gravity to draw defenders and open space for the role players, plus the Lakers have no way to replace the 27.4 points, 8.5 points, and 8.3 assists a game he brought last season. LeBron also shot 33.9 percent from three and 66.5 percent from the free-throw line last season, the Lakers cannot afford a dip in those numbers.
Los Angeles needs LeBron to keep winning that race.
CAN THE “ISLAND OF MISFIT TOYS” ROLE PLAYERS COME TOGETHER?
Having LeBron and Davis makes the Lakers an instant threat in any game or playoff series. But if the Lakers are thinking titles, that is simply not enough.
“Obviously superstars are going to do what they do. But most teams win playoff games when role players step up,” new Laker Danny Green said at Lakers’ media day. “That usually determines how far you will go and how much you’re going to win, when role players step up and play good basketball. Those are the usually the teams that win and is the last one standing.”
Green has been one of those role players standing at the end and has two rings to show for it, one with the Spurs and last season with the Raptors.
The Lakers were lucky to get him.
After Kawhi Leonard finally made his decision last July (and the Lakers were right to stay in that race as long as they could), Laker GM Rob Pelinka did about as good a job as could be expected assembling a good roster out of the players left on the board. But it’s not an optimal group by any stretch.
Questions about the quality of players and their fit meld into one overarching issue: Can the Lakers’ role players step up and provide that championship quality depth? One could make an optimistic case they can — and plenty of Lakers’ fans have talked themselves into it — but there are plenty of questions hanging out there:
• Is Kyle Kuzma — once he gets healthy and back in the lineup — ready to take a step forward and be the No. 3 player on a championship team? Did spending time with Gregg Popovich and Team USA this summer mature his game and decision making?
• Is Dwight Howard ready to just accept a role, set picks, rebound, defend the rim, and just play hard every night, not be a diva? Can he and JaVale McGee form a solid center rotation for 35-40 minutes a night? (Davis is the Lakers’ best center but will only play the five in limited minutes.)
• Can Green, Avery Bradley, Quin Cook, Jared Dudley, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope provide enough shooting around the stars to balance the floor? It’s easy to say things like “Green shot 45.5 percent from three last season” but just remember that was 32.8 percent in the playoffs — when things get tight in a deep West, then in the playoffs, can these guys be counted on?
• Can enough chemistry develop among the role players — and between LeBron and Davis with those role guys — to get the Lakers where they want to go?
That’s a lot of things that need to come together and go right.
However, if the Lakers have a healthy LeBron and Davis, they have a chance. Which is a lot more than Laker fans have been able to say the past six years.