How far the Lakers go next season — where they land in the Western Conference standings and how far they could advance in the postseason — is all about Anthony Davis.
That was true before LeBron James and his agent Rich Paul sat down with Laker GM Rob Pelinka and new head coach Darvin Ham last week. Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports has the meeting details, and while Davis was not in attendance his ears had to be burning. A big part of that is Ham preaching “defensive tenacity” and benching those who don’t display it — Davis is the team’s best defender and rim protector. If the Lakers are going to get stops, Davis has to be a defensive force.
But that’s not the only end of the court where Ham has big plans for Davis.
Furthermore, the first-year head coach said one wrinkle he will implement and stick with is having the offense run through Anthony Davis, and James concurred, sources said. The team has been encouraged with Davis’ offseason progression and believe he’ll be in optimum shape to avoid serious injuries and carry a heavier load.
The team is also hopeful for a corner-3 shooting percentage bump from Russell Westbrook next season, sources said.
The sides also agreed the Lakers needed to be patient with any roster moves, not rushing to make a move just to make one.
And before you laugh at the idea of Westbrook as a corner-3 shooter, know he hit 43.8% on corner 3s last season. The question isn’t can Westbrook hit the shot, it’s can Ham get him to accept the role on offense?
Having Davis as the team’s focal point is critical for Los Angeles on multiple levels. First, and most importantly, if the Lakers are going to threaten anybody at the top of the West (with or without Kyrie Irving) they need the bubble version of Anthony Davis, the defensive force, playmaker, and guy knocking down midrange jumpers. That version of Davis helps keep the workload on 37-year-old LeBron down, letting him pick and choose his spots a little more (and save himself for the playoffs).
More than that, when the Lakers traded for Davis, they envisioned him eventually taking over for LeBron as the No. 1 option on a championship team. Is Davis up for that task? Can he stay healthy long enough to do it? The Lakers are going to get answers this season while Davis has two fully guaranteed seasons left on his contract (plus a third on a player option) — if Davis is not that guy, the Lakers need to reconsider their long-term, post-LeBron plans.
LeBron’s meeting with Pelinka and Ham was, technically, supposed to be about the two-year, $97.1 million contract extension they can offer him. Haynes’ report said the topic was “broached,” most of the meeting was spent talking strategy and LeBron’s desire for “consistent competitiveness” from the roster night in and night out, something he felt they lacked last season. Because they did.
There’s not much to talk about with LeBron’s extension — the Lakers will give him whatever he wants. The options are one year at $47 million, two years at $97.1 million, or LeBron could sign a 1+1 where he would have a player option on that second year of the extension (the summer of 2024, which is when his son Bronny could enter the NBA).
The sides will talk again soon, and likely not about the contract extension.