We have passed the mid-way point of the 2019/20 season, and it’s far to say that the Los Angeles Lakers‘ season so far has been nothing sort of remarkable.
41 games through, the Lakers sat at 33-8, and are 34-9 at the time of writing this. Not even the most hardened fans of the purple and gold would have expected such a start to the season. Especially with the team sitting multiple games clear at the top of the Western Conference.
To mark the halfway mark of the campaign, we have brought five UK-based Laker fans on-board to provide their views and opinions on the early season success of the 16-time NBA Champions.
Could this season be where the franchise lifts championship number 17? Possibly so.
Q: The Lakers are sitting top of the Western Conference at the moment, and by quite distance too. What are your thoughts on the season so far?
Cole: “Great. I love the chemistry and the belief around the team. It really is great to have a winning team again. I really do think the regular season is important to this team’s confidence. The way we finish this season could seriously affect the way we start the playoffs.”
Mark: “This season feels legitimate. It is like being back in the good old days of the title-contention Kobe years. There’s a maturity about the team – not just that the average age of the players is higher, but across the board from the front office, the coaching staff, and then the playing squad. The approach to the season feels like when Playoff time comes the whole organisation will be locked in.”
Jamie: “The season has been fantastic so far. It’s a refreshing change to see us winning plenty of games and it makes that 3am get up to watch games a lot more enticing! I expected us to be a top 3-4 seed in the Western Conference but didn’t think we would be top seed by so many games at the half way point of the season.”
Amandeep: “The Lakers have been absolutely tremendous to watch this season. If you told me at the start of the season that after the midpoint of the season we would be so far ahead at the top of the Western Conference, I would’ve snapped your hand off! I thought there would be in a transition phase, similar to other teams, but the chemistry seems to be already at a high level throughout the team.”
Jonathan: “I think even the most fanatical Lakers fan couldn’t have wished for a better record at this point in the season. On the back of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the Lakers look like the team to beat in the Western Conference. With an excellent supporting cast and room to improve, the Lakers could be an even more dangerous animal if they can pull off some trades before the deadline.”
Q: Why do you think this team is so good?
Cole: “AD and LeBron is the simple answer. Put those two guys on any team in the league and it’s a pretty good team. But one thing I do think is underrated is Frank Vogel’s effect on this team. As we know he is a great coach and with the right tools, his teams can be successful.”
Mark: “When Walton was hired we heard a lot about the “culture” of the team. Unfortunately, during those Walton years the culture or personality of the team never quite came together. Over the summer, the Lakers were transformed somewhat from the top down. We now have a driven AD, a determined LeBron, and a serious and capable Head Coach. I think you have to credit Jeanie Buss and Rob Pelinka for righting the ship somewhat, let’s see how far that goes.”
Jamie: “Adding a second star in AD has been a huge factor. But I think the criticism that LeBron got in the summer has been one of the major factors. He’s playing at an MVP level in every single game and he carries the team at times. The other major factor for me is the rim protection we have with AD, JaVale McGee, and Dwight Howard. That’s been second to none this season so far.”
Amandeep: “The quickness of how this team has gelled, they look a real unit. Lakers have numerous strengths. For one, I think we have the best interior defense in the league, especially highlighted by the 20 block game against the Knicks. I feel the team has a great know-how, a way to get things done. It shows with our tremendous record against under .500 teams. Even if we don’t play well, we seem to get it done for the most part, which is always the hallmark of a championship team.”
Jonathan: “With this Lakers squad, there is a sense of unity and togetherness that we haven’t seen in a long time. Not since the days of Magic and Kareem have we seen two superstars so in sync. With a team full of players capable of starting, it shows the character of this team that they are willing to play a role to help the Lakers win. They have all bought into Coach Vogel’s system and philosophy.”
Q: This roster has many strengths, that’s clear too see, but what are you concerned about with the Lakers moving forward? What are the weaknesses?
Cole: “The obvious concern moving forward is the lack of a third scorer. Kuzma has shown flashes of that already, but nothing solid. It’s a problem that needs addressing moving forward otherwise we are stuck relying on a random third option from night-to-night.”
Mark: “I think it’s easy to say we need another wing, a backup point guard, and possibly some toughness on the bench. However, the current NBA is replete with excellent teams, but no perfect teams. In other words, there’s areas that need improvement but I’m not really concerned about weaknesses.”
Jamie: “My main concern hasn’t changed at all since the start of the season – and that’s how we cope without LeBron. We may be able to cope with the odd game but if he missed a stretch of say 4-6 games then I would worry about who would run the offence in his absence.”
Amandeep: “A big weakness I would point to is the lack of defensive options at the wing to guard a tandem like Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. LeBron isn’t going to guard them all the time. Danny Green certainly can try. I think KCP is too small physically to cope in that role.”
Jonathan: “Two major concerns are the Lakers’ lack of depth at the small forward position behind LeBron James, and play-making.”
Q: Who has been the most surprising player so far this season?
Cole: “DWIGHT!! He’s been great. Way more than expected. We really couldn’t have hoped for more from his return to Staples.”
Mark: “Back in 2009 I was trying to get my young brother-in-law into basketball. To this day he says he’ll call his first son Dwight. That was the Dwight Howard who we thought would put the Lakers back on top again – we all know how that turned out. Things could have been so different…maybe, just maybe, this year they will. Whatever happens, I’ve never enjoyed a sports redemption story as much as I have with this year’s Dwight Howard.”
Jamie: “The most surprising player for me has been Dwight Howard. He’s been an awesome addition to our team and whilst we all knew he could still play a little, the most surprising thing is how much he seems to be loving his time back in LA.”
Amandeep: “The most surprising player has to be Dwight Howard. He’s been a revelation. It’s a real bonus that a former DPOY can regain form and still play at a high level, even if it’s off the bench. I approached him with teal skepticism at the start of the season, but he really has proven me wrong.”
Jonathan: “The surprising player is clearly Dwight Howard. Coming back to LA seemed like a recipe for disaster for him but he has been able to resurrect his career and is now one of the most beloved teammates and is a fan favorite. Time really does heal all wounds.”
Q: And… the most underwhelming player?
Cole: “Probably Cook. I really liked the signing after his stint at Golden State. Unfortunately, he has struggled to make a real mark on the court. I think he would maybe have more success if we played him as more of a catch and shoot player rather then an initiator.”
Mark: “Sadly I have to say Kuzma. Not that I think he’s the worst performer on the team, he’s probably about where you might expect. It’s just that we had to hope he would make a noticeable improvement and thus far that hasn’t really happened. That being said, I’d be in no hurry to trade him.”
Jamie: “Might be controversial but my most underwhelming player has been Danny Green. There is no doubt he has had a few great games for us but I expected him to contribute a lot more. I think maybe Vogel agrees as he seems to limit his minutes quite a lot in certain games.”
Amandeep: “The most underwhelming player for me is Lebr… just joking it’s Rajon Rondo! Yes he can turn it up every now and then but he’s clearly lost another step and his defense is woeful to say the least.”
Jonathan: “Kyle Kuzma has been incredibly underwhelming this year. He has not reacted well to coming off the bench. If Kuzma continues to play this way, there is a high likelihood he will be traded.”
Q: The trade deadline is fast approaching (February 6), should the Lakers make a move? If yes, what type of move?
Cole: “I think it all depends on what happens with Darren Collison. The thing is we have a real hole at point guard and could really do with an experienced ball-handler to take the pressure off of LeBron. If Collison falls through then Bogdan Bogdanovic or Derrick Rose could be options. Unfortunately, the only guy that holds enough value to get either of these guys is Kuzma, a player I like but still hasn’t proved himself playing at this level.”
Mark: “The Lakers front office should certainly be looking to see what moves might be on the table. That’s their job. But the chemistry has been so good this year, and this team has been so starved of season-to-season consistency I don’t think there should be a rush to make sweeping changes before the deadline.”
Jamie: “Given the recent efforts from our role players while AD has been out, I wouldn’t trade anyone personally. I can understand the noise around a Kyle Kuzma trade but the team chemistry seems fantastic and I don’t think we should mess with that. Yes, Kuzma is very inconsistent but he still has the ability to go for 20-25 points on any given night which is invaluable.”
Amandeep: “With the trade deadline fast approaching, I would look for a buyout candidate in Collison. Iguodala looks unrealistic at the moment, so Collison would be a real plus. If I had to make a trade I would try and move Cook/Daniels and maybe Cousins for Rose. Or Kuzma/Cook/Daniels for Bogdanovic and another piece.”
Jonathan: “With this Lakers team, I think minor moves could help the team get better. Moving Kuzma for wing depth would help the Lakers greatly. Kuzma and pieces to the Phoenix Suns for Cam Johnson and Dario Saric would be a good exchange. This gives the Lakers added length, shooting, and depth at both small forward and power forward.”
Q: The buyout market is also an option, should the Lakers explore it?
Cole: “The only guy I think we should keep a close eye on is Igoudala and whether the Memphis Grizzlies finally decide to give up on him or not. He would really add another piece of championship pedigree that we could always use. Not to mention a great wing defender.”
Mark: “They should absolutely explore the buyout market, for the same reasons as above. I’d be looking for someone like Jared Dudley – an experienced pro, good team-mate but also capable of contributing in his role.”
Jamie: “In my opinion we should just explore the free agent market for a ball handler and wing defender. For me, Collison and Iguodala are the 2 names I would be pursuing. Adding them both would be ideal but if we can get at least one of them, I think we have enough to go all the way.”
Amandeep: “Lakers should certainly go for Collison or Igoudala in the buyout market. Although Collison seems to be the only deal that looks likely.”
Jonathan: “In the buyout market, the ideal candidates would be Jae Crowder, Goran Dragic, and Trevor Ariza. Andre Iguodala could be an option too but the Grizzlies seem hesitant to do business with anyone not willing to hand over picks. Landing a quality wing defender and play-maker could be huge in terms of the Lakers beating the Clippers and making it to the NBA Finals.”
Q: What will the Lakers’ record be at the end of the regular season?
Cole: “I think 60-65 wins is well within reach now considering the start.”
Mark: “I hoped for about 53 wins this season. 60 looks more likely now. Pinch me.”
Jamie: “I think we will finish with a winning record of 58-24 as we have a much tougher schedule in the second half of the season.”
Amandeep: “The Lakers’ record at the end of the season will be 64-18. I feel like we will drop some more games as LeBron and AD will tailor off the minutes towards the end of the season.”
Jonathan: “If the Lakers continue as they are going I don’t think 66-16 is an unrealistic record. The main thing the Lakers should be focusing on however is being healthy, full of energy and ready for the playoffs.”
Q: And finally, what’s the ceiling of this team? What will be the outcome of this season?
Cole: “Hopefully a championship, I think anything otherwise would be a disappointment. But then I always say when it comes to the Lakers, if you expect disappointment you won’t be disappointed. Bit pessimistic, I know.”
Mark: “This team rides on LeBron’s health. He stays healthy? We’ve got a chance of going all the way. He and AD both stay healthy? Expecting anything less than a Championship would just not be the Laker way.”
Jamie: “For me, we will reach the Western Conference Finals against the Clippers but I then think it’s 50/50 as to whether we will go through to face probably the Bucks for that illusive 17th Championship.”
Amandeep: “The ceiling and outcome of the team is simple – Championship babbbyyyyyy!”
Jonathan: “The ceiling for this team is an NBA championship. They have proven so far this season that they have the talent to beat anyone if they can improve even further then they can really put teams like the Clippers and Bucks under a lot of pressure. I think the outcome will be a Larry O’Brien trophy… if they stay healthy.”
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