Is LeBron James Going to Win His 5th MVP Award?

He Just Leads the Path For Us": Giannis Antetokounmpo Sees LeBron ...
(Image/Essentially Sports)

This season, as always, the superstars and titans of the league have been battling to earn the NBA’s Most Valuable Player Award. Two of the main contenders are the Los Angeles Lakers superstar duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis.  

The King of Los Angeles, LeBron James is like a fine wine that gets better with age. At the age of 35, he has led the purple and gold to the top spot in the Western Conference with an impressive record of 49 wins and 14 losses.  

James is the facilitator and is constantly talking and shouting out plays. His passing this year has been exceptional and that along with his basketball IQ makes him one of the best playmakers in the league. This season James is averaging 10.6 assists per game. This is the highest in the league with the Atlanta Hawks’ Trae Young in second, with 9.3 per game. Alongside his playmaking skills, James’ scoring has been dominant, averaging an impressive 25.7 points per game. Most of these points come from his unprecedented ability to get to the rim with 14 drives per game which equates to 57% of his points.  

He has been a threat from deep by being just below a league-average 3-point shooter and has increased his efficiency from last year (from .339% to .349%). This efficiency along with his great mid-range game and rim finishing equates to an effective field goal percentage of .555%. Which combined with 19.6 field-goals attempted per game is a hugely impressive feat.  

Defensively James has been solid and the infamous chase down block has been on display many times in the city of angels. He has been grabbing a lot of rebounds with 7.9 per game, of which 6.9 are defensive. His insane athleticism along with his strength allows him to guard anyone if needed, and when players do get past him, he has the speed to recover and defend the rim. 

When looking at Jacob Goldstein’s Player Impact Plus-Minus (PIPM) metric, LeBron James comes out as third in the league with a hugely impressive 6.10. Looking at the Player Efficiency Rating (PER) metric James has a rating of 26.0, which is in the top 10 in the league. 

The 35-year-old superstar has been the focal point for this exceptional Lakers team. He has led the team to the top in a very competitive conference and has had some huge performances against other championship-contending sides. In the game against the Milwaukee Bucks on March 6, James had a sublime 37 points in 36 minutes. The game after that was against the Los Angeles Clippers in a great derby win where he had 28 points in 34 minutes. Both teams are very strong contenders and favourites to win the championship. James showed them what they should expect and fear in the playoffs.  

LeBron James have proven this season that he is an extremely strong candidate for the MVP award. At the age of 35 there’s still no sign of him slowing down. 

Navigate through the other MVP candidates via the link below.

NEXT: Giannis Antetokounmpo

Is the End of This Season to Be LeBron James’ Last Dance?

Los Angeles Lakers
(Photo by Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images)

After such a long time away from the court, many observers feel that LeBron James will not be able to continue his superb form when the NBA resumes. Have we witnessed the last meaningful spin around the floor for the Laker’s current face of the franchise? And will he soon waltz off toward diminished levels of play and ultimately retirement, without adding further to his basketball legacy?

Since the NBA suspended its season on March 11, basketball fans around the world have craved the return of competitive hoops, when all is safe and appropriate to do so, of course. During the break, many were fascinated by Michael Jordan‘s documentary ‘The Last Dance’ detailing MJ’s final season of title-winning relevance.

With the NBA season now set to resume safely at Disney World in Orlando on the July 31, some observers believe that the break-in-play has harmed the Western Conference-topping Los Angeles Lakers’ chance for a historic 17th NBA title.

These commentators maintain that view because of the toll a break in sporting hostilities will have put upon the MVP-level momentum built up by LeBron James before lockdown. Furthermore, some critics say that should the Lakers fail this time around, then James will have had his own ‘Last Dance’. With a return to title-winning relevance next year seemingly beyond even his considerable powers, when he will turn 36 years old. His current purple and gold supporting cast are set to break up too. If many supposedly in-the-know types are to be believed, further damaging King James’ chances at another crown.

From international broadcasters, such as ESPN, to local, feet-on-the-ground journalists at the Los Angeles Times, James’ huge influence on this current Laker title charge has been well recognized. But the same sources have also noted that with the advancement of time, so have his chances of a Laker championship decreased.

The main argument seems to be that despite posting MVP-level stats as the only 35-year-old in NBA history to average 25 points and 10 assists per game, the chances of him recapturing that form after such a long break in competitive action are very much against a man his age. Indeed, King James himself remarked that the layoff is “not good” for his 35-year-old body.

Should the chance be lost this time, all eyes would look to 2021. But with another year on the clock, a repeat of his historic form this time around could seem unlikely, especially given the good run of injury-free luck he has enjoyed this season.

Could that luck continue into his 36th year? Which will also be his 18th season in the league. His supporters would counter by saying yes, James has racked up over 1,000 regular-season games and 239 playoff games, the latter good for the 4th-best all-time. But crucially he is also the record holder for all-time points scored in the play-offs, having been to 8 straight NBA Finals and notched over 40 minutes per night on the hardwood in those series’. This shows that he steps up when it counts and has the endurance to do so. The lockdown workout videos he has posted on social media further attest to the state of his still-elite conditioning and hyper-competitive desire to win.

NEXT: Potential Warning Signs

An Interview With Phil Handy (Assistant Coach, Los Angeles Lakers)

(Image/Nelson Chenault/USA Today Sports)

On the latest episode of The Lake Lake Show podcast, Los Angeles Lakers Assistant Coach and 2-time NBA Champion, Phil Handy, featured as a guest.

Handy speaks briefly about the NBA season resuming, his first spell with the Lakers (2011-13), his return to Los Angeles, and the difficulty in leaving Toronto after the Raptors’ title-winning season.

Other topics include the Lakers’ chemistry this season, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kyle Kuzma, and his playing days in the United Kingdom with the Manchester Giants in 2000.  

You can check out the interview on all major podcast platforms, including Apple and Spotify. As well as on YouTube, through the link below, where the visuals are available.


Check out Lakers UK’s podcast The Lake Lake Show on all podcast platforms. Including Apple PodcastsSpotify, and Google Podcasts.

Lakers UK are proud affiliate partners of Fanatics UK and the NBA Store Europe. We do possess unique promotional codes for both websites that can offer our readers and followers 10% off site-wide through the following weblinks.

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NBA Store Europe: http://tinyurl.com/y585vud9 and enter the promotional code LAKERSUK10 at checkout. This is not limited to Lakers gear, the discount is available site-wide on any product you wish to purchase!

 

Grading the Lakers’ 2019/20 Starters

(Image/NBC Los Angeles)

With the NBA and the world at a halt due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s the ideal time to roundup the Los Angeles Lakers’ season especially when there are rumours floating around that the season may be canceled. 

The Lakers have had a successful season and are currently sitting on the second-best record in the league, 49-14. Led by the aging titan LeBron James and perennial All-Star Anthony Davis, who are averaging 25.7 and 26.7 points per game, respectively. With the team having performed so well we’re going to grade each starting player from A+ to F- based on their contributions and impact. 

LeBron  James After NBA Suspends Season: 'What We Really Need to ...
(Image/Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press)

At the age of 35, LeBron James is the purple and gold’s floor general that dominates the court. He is facilitating and orchestrating most of the plays and is the leagues assists leader, posting a sensational 10.6 per game. Not only is James assisting a huge amount, but he is also scoring relentlessly with 25.7 points per game.  

James was more of a threat from deep this year compared to last, this was evident as his 3-point percentage increased to an above-average 34.9%.  

When looking at Jacob Goldstein’s PIPM metric, James is sat in third with an impressive +6.1 score. On both ends of the court he has been a huge presence and his defensive impact has been evident throughout the year.  

There are not many negatives when looking at LeBron James’ season. However, the glaring issue is his poor free-throw shooting (.697%) which is below his career average. 

The Lakers traded a lot of key pieces to get Anthony Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans to form arguably the best duo in the league, and this was a crucial move for the organisation. With the way James has stepped up into another gear, it’s clear that it was a great decision. 

Questions were asked on whether LeBron James would deteriorate but he has proved again why he’s in the conversation of being the greatest player of all time. 

Grade: A+ 

Anthony  Davis Reiterates He Will Enter Free Agency Next Summer
(Image/Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

In his debut season for the Lakers, Anthony Davis has shined and has proven to be the perfect superstar to link up with LeBron James.  

Davis is proving to the league that he is one of the best 2-way players. He is leading the Lakers’ scoring effort with an impressive 26.7 points per game, whilst being one of the top Defensive Player of The Year candidates.  

When looking at Jacob Goldstein’s PIPM metric, Davis is sat at 7th with an impressive +4.55 score. Davis has been exceptional on the defensive front and is averaging 9.4 rebounds, 2.4 blocks, and 1.5 steals per game. 

Davis has been asked to put up more 3-pointers and his efficiency (33.5%) is around league average. He needs to put up even more shots and work on his efficiency as it creates a lot more space by drawing defenders out to him when beyond the arc. 

Overall, Anthony Davis has been a top-10 player but there is another gear that he can go into. 

Grade: A 

Danny Green note sa performance au cours de la saison NBA 2019-2020
(Image/Getty Images)

After his Championship winning season last time out in Toronto, Danny Green landed in the City of Angels and has been a good addition to the roster. 

Green has not hit the heights of last season and his performances have dipped. But he has still been impactful. When looking at Goldstein’s PIPM metric, Danny Green has a +1.51 score. Although it’s not as impressive as last year (+3.85) he is still in the top 100 (#65).

Green is known for his “3 and D” playstyle and has been impressive on the defensive end, but his scoring hasn’t been as efficient compared to his previous seasons. His 3-point percentage is still above league average at 37.8% but this is a huge dip compared to last year where it was 45.5%. 

Overall Danny Green has been a good addition but has not reached near the level he showed last year in Toronto. To get close to that he needs to be more consistent and improve his field goal and 3-point efficiency. 

Grade: C

Avery Bradley on beating Nuggets for second time in Denver: "They ...
(Image/Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Avery Bradley’s defensive work rate and efficiency has been great this season. He has brought his toughness along with a high work rate and has been a big reason why the Lakers are a top-3 defensive team.  

Bradley’s offensive game has improved this year compared to last and he’s a lot more efficient. His shooting efficiency has increased from last year. By 1.3% from range and by 3.6% from the field. This efficiency increase along with his defensive output has made a big impact on the team.  

Overall, Avery Bradley has had a good season and has improved upon his last. The consistency is the only question mark around Bradley. 

Grade: B 

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(Image/Kirby Lee-USA/TODAY Sports)

JaVale McGee’s defense has been excellent this season and he is also a big reason as to why the Lakers are a top-3 defensive team in the NBA . 

McGee’s rim defense has been exceptional resulting in him averaging 1.5 blocks per game. He is a key component to the defensive cog of the Lakers and not only is his defense exceptional, but his offense has really improved this year. McGee’s field goal percentage is the second-highest it has been in his career at 64%. 

JaVale McGee has found his role within the team and although he plays limited minutes he certainly makes an impact when on the floor. 

Grade: B+ 


Check out Lakers UK’s podcast The Lake Lake Show on all podcast platforms. Including Apple PodcastsSpotify, and Google Podcasts.

Lakers UK are proud affiliate partners of Fanatics UK and the NBA Store Europe. We do possess unique promotional codes for both websites that can offer our readers and followers 10% off site-wide through the following weblinks.

Fanatics UK: http://tinyurl.com/y4vjv32b and enter the promotional code LAKERSUK10 at checkout to receive 10% off. This is not limited to just NBA apparel, but the discount can be used on MLB, NFL, NHL, Football/Soccer gear also!

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Who Will Be the Lakers’ Backup Playmaker?

(Image/Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

With the last stretch of the season to go, the Los Angeles Lakers need a secondary playmaker to emerge from their roster that can be relied on to carry the load when LeBron James is off the floor.  

To be able to analyse who can fill the role it’s important to understand how impressive LeBron James is at creating plays and buckets for the team.

James is within the top 15 players in the NBA when it comes to usage rate, with 30.8%. Hence why he has such a strong presence on the court. With this high usage, he also contributes to a league leading (when looking at players who have played over 5 games) 54.4% of the Lakers’ assists.

The 35-year-old is sitting at the top of the assist leaderboard by a distance, with a sensational 10.7 assists per game. Just to put that into context, All-Star Trae Young is second with 9.3 per game. Not only is James producing a huge number of assists, but he’s doing this whilst maintaining a career-high assist to turnover ratio of 2.65.

Along with these stats and eye test, it’s clear to see that LeBron James is an elite playmaker.

Rajon Rondo, who was tipped to be the secondary playmaker, isn’t at the level he used to be. He can still create assists (averaging 5 per game), however he’s not efficient as he has been in the past and his offensive game has progressively gotten worse.

While on the floor, the Lakers’ offensive rating drops by 8.2, which is a huge amount. Compare this to Alex Caruso, who has a sensational +7.5 when on the court. The purple and gold can’t afford to play Rondo on excessive minutes because the impact is detrimental to the team hence why the playmaking role needs to be assigned to someone like Alex Caruso or even newly acquired guard Dion Waiters

Alex Caruso is a fan favourite in the City of Angels. Caruso has a great all-round game and is especially impactful when on defense. Caruso has an impressive +1.6 in Goldstein’s Defensive Player Impact Plus-Minus score. So when on the court, he isn’t a liability on that end unlike Rondo.

Caruso has already showcased some of his playmaking abilities and is currently averaging 1.8 assists per game whilst producing an efficient 2.3 assists per turnover. His passing isn’t near the level of LeBron James, but it’s at a decent level that the team can take advantage of.

(Image/Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

Caruso has proven that he can be relied on when carrying some of the playmaking duties whilst playing more minutes. During last year he was averaging 3.1 assists per game, whilst playing only 3 more minutes per game than he is this season. Lakers Head Coach Frank Vogel should increase Caruso’s minutes and let him flourish into the secondary playmaker role. 

If the Lakers don’t want to go down the Caruso route then they can slot Dion Waiters into the role of the backup playmaker. This season is a very small sample size when looking at Waiters passing stats; Miami were not using Waiters as a playmaker and so he was only contributing one assist per game. 

Taking a look back at the 2018-19 season, Waiters was averaging 2.8 assists per game with 1.8 assists per turnover. Waiters isn’t as strong or efficient of a passer compared to Caruso but he can still manage within the role.  

What the Lakers decide could be situational because if there is more of a focus on a 3-point shooter then Dion Waiter is a great choice. However, if there is more of a focus on defense then Caruso is the better option. 

Frank Vogel has a good dilemma in his hands as both guards can be competent in the role. There are over 20 games left to go so there’s still time to experiment with both in the role and analyse who’s more beneficial. 

All stats up-to-date as of March 6.

The Lakers Keep on Rolling: A Mid-Season Review

(Image/Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

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.

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(Image/Chris Elise/NBAE/Getty Images)

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.”

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(Image/Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

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.”

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(Image/Bill Baptist/NBAE/Getty Images)

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.”

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(Image/Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

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.”

Thank you to Cole, Mark, Jamie, Amandeep, and Jonathan for taking part and providing their views. Make sure to give them all a follow on social media through the links included.


Lakers Fanclub UK are proud affiliate partners of Fanatics UK and the NBA Store Europe. We do possess unique promotional codes for both websites that can offer our readers and followers 10% off site-wide through the following weblinks.

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Are Howard And Davis The New Robinson And Duncan?

Image result for anthony davis dwight howard
(Image/Harry How/Getty Images)

A huge claim to say the least, but with the young superstar in Anthony Davis and the aging former MVP candidate, yet effective veteran, in Dwight Howard. Are they the next big man duo to set the NBA alight?

Let’s get this out of the way early. I am not comparing Dwight Howard at this moment in time to an in his prime David Robinson.

I am simply comparing Robinson at age 33 and Dwight Howard at age 33 (now 34 but for the start of the season, aged 33). Tim Duncan and David Robinson throughout their illustrious career accomplished more than most NBA players ever will and it would be unfair to compare careers to this point. For the sake of argument, we are comparing the production of Howard and Robinson at 33 and Anthony Davis and Duncan at 25.  Are we all in accord? Great.

The Los Angeles Lakers after suffering an opening night loss to their city rivals, the Los Angeles Clippers, have put together some impressive wins to open the season and have shown that they have the potential to make some noise in the playoff picture moving forward.

On the back of stellar play from superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the purple and gold have put teams to the sword at times and look to be the unstoppable pairing most NBA analysts believed they would be.

Their collective skill-sets have lent perfectly to each other’s strengths and weaknesses. LeBron being the elite play-maker and leader, and Anthony Davis being the elite defender and pick-and-roll monster.

While LeBron and Anthony Davis have rightfully garnered most of the plaudits, several significant role players have stood up and been counted. The likes of Avery Bradley, Alex Caruso, Danny Green, and to a lesser extent JaVale McGee, have all been important pieces to the Lakers’ early-season exploit.

However, one former superstar, who was thought to be on his way out of the league has been one of the key ingredients to the Lakers’ success. None other than the former “Dwightmare” himself, Dwight Howard. I think we as Lakers’ fans can now put to rest that difficult period in Lakers’ history and move on to the next chapter.

Howard has been providing valuable minutes for the purple and gold so far this season. His ability to set bone-crushing screens and slam down some perfectly timed lobs have been greatly appreciated by Lakers Nation and he seems to be doing everything he can as a teammate to get rid of the memory of the “Dwightmare”.

While Howard’s incredibly efficient offensive ability has been in full view and has been great, it is his work on the defensive end that has fans of the purple and gold raving.

Let’s start with his blocking exploits. To start the season, he was 5th in NBA in blocked shots, averaging 2.33. What made this statistic even more remarkable is that he was and still is doing this while coming off of the bench. Howard is currently splitting minutes with JaVale McGee, and with McGee as the starting center.

While Howard’s block numbers have gone down to 1.5, he is still providing a huge amount on the defensive end in turns of staying in-front of his man and his ability to stay in-front of guards to effect their shot. While the blocking stats are incredible, it is the overall contribution in help defense that has endeared him to Lakers Nation.

If he isn’t swatting shots at the rim, he is sliding over to help his teammates as a weakside defender. He has proven to be a nuisance to opposing players and long may it continue.

Alongside superstar Anthony Davis, Howard has formed one of the most formidable big men pairing in the league, which got me thinking about some of the best big men pairings in NBA history.

McHale and Parrish, Kareem and Worthy, Sampson and Olajuwon, some of the greatest frontcourt pairings in NBA history, but the first, and in my opinion best pairing, was David Robinson and Tim Duncan.

Robinson is one of the best and in my opinion the most underappreciated centers in NBA history. His name is often forgotten among the likes of Shaquille O’Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon as one of the true great centers of the post-Kareem era.

While Dwight Howard was considered the best big man in the league during his prime, he is far from his prime now, but that’s ok.

Comparing his numbers at aged 34 to that of Robinson’s, and the admiral has him beat in pretty much every category, however a few things need to be taken into account.

Howard is playing 12 fewer minutes per game then Robinson was, and is not the first, second, third and sometimes not even the fourth option when it comes to scoring the ball.

To start the season Howard was averaging similar numbers when it came to blocks, averaging 2.3, this has since gone down to 1.5 and so far he has been an ultra-efficient scorer.

Pete Zayas of Laker Film Room masterfully outlines Howard’s contribution on the defensive end.

Again, he is not a better center than Robinson but at the same age, they have potentially similar stat lines. Granted Howard has been poor the last number of years, while Robinson was the height of consistency throughout his storied career.

With Howard as a defensive-minded veteran like Robinson, you need someone who has similarities to Tim Duncan. Look no further than Anthony Davis.

Duncan is understandably considered the gold standard when it comes to power forwards. To me, he unquestionably the greatest power forward in NBA history.

The greatest compliment that can be bestowed upon Anthony Davis is being compared to this Spurs legend. Davis in a rapid period has gotten into the conversation as one of the greats at the power forward position. Yes, Davis has a ways to go yet to catch the “Big Fundamental”, but he is on the right track and has the potential to reach the mountain top.

With Davis’ abilities on both ends of the floor, it is hard not to see similarities to Duncan and Davis’ game. Both beasts on the offensive end, Duncan would beat you with his razor-sharp fundamentals and IQ.

Davis while also a savant on the floor can beat you with his array of post moves and if that doesn’t work Davis is going to use his superior physical build to beat you up in the post.

On the defensive end, both Davis and Duncan were/are juggernauts. Each man among the league leaders in blocked and contested shots. It was truly a marvel to watch Duncan on the defensive end of the floor and I can easily say the same about Davis right now.

So Davis and Howard, are they the next Robinson and Duncan at the same stages of their career? I’m going to say this. The potential is there.

If Dwight Howard can get more minutes and continue to be ultra-effective on the offensive end whilst still wreaking havoc on the defensive end then yes, Howard and AD have the chance to be a special pairing.

It is extremely early days and it would be blasphemous to put them in the same league in terms of achievements throughout Duncan and Robinson’s career. But with Howard and Robinson at 33 and Davis and Duncan at 26 years of age, there is a chance that the Lakers duo could have a similar output to Duncan and Robinson, if even only on the defensive end.

If Davis and Howard can keep this level of play up, stay healthy and learn to play together even better then the rest of the NBA better be on notice. With their defensive abilities, they can be special.

With Davis and LeBron James the main focal point (rightfully so), Howard can continue to grind on defense and maybe just maybe the Lakers can bring the Larry O’Brien trophy back to Staples Center.

The Lost Decade – Part 2 (2016-Present)

With the signing of Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng, the Lakers were being led down an unfamiliar path named mediocrity. Something needed to change.

Jeanie Takes Control

Cruelly, the 2016-2017 season began with a hopeful aspect. In spite of widespread criticism of the front office over the Deng and Mozgov contracts, Ingram and Russell were considered smart choices with high level picks and the scouting department was using lower-level picks to hit on solid bench players like Nance and Ivica Zubac. Walton was highly regarded as a prospective coach, and an attitude of youthful optimism took over the early season.

The team had started well above expectations at an even 10-10 before a tougher stretch of schedule and the injury bug conspired to derail the season. The Lakers were a putrid 7-24 in December and January, and then seemingly out of nowhere a dramatic ownership battle erupted.

Jeanie Buss, who had been left the controlling owner of the Lakers by her father before he passed, had her primary expertise and focus on the business end of the franchise. Her brother Jim, who worked in the front office, had largely been left to deal with basketball matters, along with General Manager Mitch Kupchak.

Seeing the team continue to underperform in spite of her brother’s pledges to return to title contention, Jeanie had grown impatient. When Jim failed to meet a self-imposed deadline to return to the playoffs by 2017 – the Lakers finished an improved 26-56 but were eliminated from contention in February – Jeanie promptly fired him, Kupchak, and most of the rest of the front office. She replaced them with longtime friend and Laker legend Magic Johnson as President of Basketball Operations and former Kobe Bryant agent Rob Pelinka as General Manager.

(Image/Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Shortly thereafter, as the season unceremoniously wound down, Jeanie was forced to put down an attempt by her scorned brother to take control of the team by taking him to court. The failure to make the playoffs again after a promising start combined with the ugliness of the conflict at the ownership level did not project the look of an organization ready to contend for a title.

Still, Jeanie Buss, Johnson, and Pelinka made some bold moves in the 2017 off-season with a clear objective in mind: restore the Lakers’ status as the premier destination for elite talent in the NBA. To rid themselves of Mozgov’s massive contract, they agreed to trade Russell with him to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for Brook Lopez and a draft pick swap. Doing so permitted the Lakers to guarantee they would have max-level salary space the following summer when several big names such as LeBron James and Paul George would be free agents.

They had been aided by the luck of the draw when the NBA Draft Lottery delivered them the second overall pick yet again, a high enough spot for them to retain it. They used it on the college point guard phenomenon Lonzo Ball, who drew comparisons to Johnson for his combination of size, speed, and court vision at that position.

They were also able to use two late first-round picks previously acquired to draft Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart, who along with Ball impressed in Summer League. Also, they signed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who was a client of LeBron James’ agent and close business partner Rich Paul, to a conspicuously generous contract.

In spite of these changes, the 2017-2018 season started poorly, with injuries and uncertainty about roles again to blame. Yet after an atrocious December, the team played better than .500 basketball, with each of the youngsters impressing in turn, to finish at 35-47. In February, the Lakers traded Clarkson and Nance to Cleveland in a deal that took on only contracts in their last year, increasing potential cap space for the coming free agency period.

With several huge names available and the Lakers openly clearing as much salary cap space as possible to court them, the summer of 2018 was set up to be pivotal in the plan Jeanie Buss, Johnson, and Pelinka had made when they took over the organization the previous season. The circumstances were unlikely to ever be more favorable. They had the money, they had a cast of promising young players on cheap contracts, and they had the best salesman in basketball.

(Image/Reuters)

Star Chasing

The name most widely connected to the Lakers near the beginning of free agency in 2018 was Paul George. He had requested a trade to the Lakers from Indiana before being dealt to join Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City instead. Yet as midnight approached on day one of the 2018 free agency period, the announcement (complete with a three-part ESPN special that made The Decision seem comparatively modest) came that George would be signing a four-year contract to remain with the Thunder.

Yet again, the Lakers had missed out on a major free agent and it was a body blow to their plan. Given George’s vocal request to be moved to the Lakers, the team had been widely expected to be very competitive in the market for his services. As it was, George was so taken with the lavish recruitment campaign Westbrook and the Thunder mounted that he decided without even granting the Lakers a meeting.

Yet even as the Laker fan base was stunned to the point of despair by George’s decision, Magic Johnson had been quietly invited to a meeting at the Los Angeles home of LeBron James. James was thinking about his future, and the potential attractions of both playing near his family and the media production opportunities available in LA were too strong to ignore.

The one thing James needed to know before making the move was whether he could trust the organization and front office to build winning teams around him. He may have had one eye on life after basketball, but he was not interested in spending his last years in the league trapped on bad teams as Bryant had.

Throughout their conversation, Johnson detailed the Lakers’ long term plans and sold James on a partnership with the organization. The message was particularly powerful coming from Johnson, who was so beloved by Dr. Buss both as a player and an individual that he was given a small ownership stake in the team. James was convinced.

Less than a day later, the Klutch Sports Twitter account tweeted a press release.

(Image/Klutch Sports)

Pelinka would later say that he found out in similarly low-key fashion when James’ agent Rich Paul texted him a simple “congratulations”, adorned for good measure with a balloon emoji.

But James was not the herald of a return to elite basketball, at least not immediately. Ball, Ingram, Kuzma, and Hart all had a long way to go, and the Lakers lost sharpshooting center Brook Lopez in free agency to the Bucks. Yet the addition of James was enough to have the Lakers in solid early position at 19-14 entering a Christmas confrontation with the twice defending champion Warriors.

The Lakers played a marvelous game, even closing it out effectively after James left in the third quarter with an apparent groin injury. But 20-14 was as good as the Lakers’ record would be. James’ recovery timeline stretched from weeks to months. Losses mounted as the supporting cast proved maddeningly unable to finish games without him.

The drama escalated when 25-year old superstar Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Pelicans went public with a request to be traded to the Lakers. To emphasize the point, he changed his representation to Klutch Sports and Rich Paul. The message was unmistakable: I want to be a Laker and LeBron James wants me to be one too.

The young players spent weeks in the lead-up to the trade deadline reading their names in press reports about trade discussions. Their play and team chemistry suffered. Worst of all, the deadline passed without a deal, meaning that the team and players they had openly been discussing trading were stuck with one another through the end of the year.

When James finally returned after three months, he seemed a step slower. A promised push to sneak into the playoffs never materialized. The team ended the season 37-45, out of the playoffs for the sixth consecutive year. Media personalities began to question whether, at age 34 and having just incurred the first significant injury of his career, James would be himself again even with a long summer to recover.

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(Image/Los Angeles Times)

LeBron James’ first season, even accounting for injuries, was a disappointment. People expected more of Ball and Ingram than they delivered, even when they showed flashes of their potential. James himself hadn’t failed to make the playoffs since his second year in the league. The failure to secure a trade for Davis during the year made the off-season all the more consequential. Some even said that without another star, the Lakers could be compelled to trade James and start over.

Adding to the Lakers’ misfortunes, Johnson unexpectedly resigned after the season, alluding to contention within the organization at the management level. Head Coach Luke Walton was fired. To replace him, the team had a high profile flirtation with former Laker and former James coach Tyronn Lue, only to see that negotiation fall through when the Lakers refused to meet Lue’s price.

Johnson then went to the media to express his frustration with Pelinka, who he claimed had been commenting loudly on the amount of time he spent working with the Lakers as opposed to his other business commitments. Talk of organizational dysfunction was revived.

It was at this point, when the Lakers’ long term plan seemed in serious danger of collapse, that they finally managed to trade for Anthony Davis. Davis’ insistence that the Lakers were his chosen destination scared off other potential suitors and the Lakers’ offer was clearly the best available. When another fortuitous draft lottery made the first-round pick they had been offering the fourth overall, their trade package became too good for New Orleans to refuse indefinitely.

It cost them Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, and a combination of draft picks and optional-swaps sufficient to make the move somewhat risky, but the Lakers finally secured their second superstar. Additionally, the team brought in a coaching staff headed by former Pacers coach Frank Vogel, and with highly regarded names in Jason Kidd and Lionel Hollins as his assistants.

Seeking to build a dynasty, they immediately pivoted to Kawhi Leonard‘s free agency and pitched him heavily on playing with two more of the world’s best players in his home town. Leonard had plans of his own and leveraged the temptation of the Lakers to force the Los Angeles Clippers to trade for Paul George to secure his services.

The 2019 off-season came to a close with mixed reviews. On one hand, it is difficult to criticize anything about the acquisition of Anthony Davis, who is a generational player. Yet, seeing the Lakers lose out on a free agent of Leonard’s caliber to the Clippers of all teams – taking with him another star long linked to the Lakers – only reminded fans of a dozen recent failures in free agency, and continued mistrust of the front office remained.

The Rise

Starting immediately after Leonard’s signing with the Clippers, the Lakers filled out their roster around their newly minted star duo. Danny Green, Avery Bradley, DeMarcus Cousins, and astonishingly – after Cousins suffered an ACL tear during an off-season workout – Dwight Howard was added to returning players Kuzma, Alex Caruso, Rajon Rondo, and JaVale McGee.

Several prominent commentators who shall remain nameless sneered at the roster. But 34 games into the season the Lakers are 26-7 and first in the highly competitive Western Conference. For the first time since late 2012, the Lakers are playing with championship expectations.

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(Image/Slam)

James has come out in MVP form after his long off-season and he and Davis have shown early chemistry both on and off the court that few dared expect. With Davis sending signals of his intent to re-sign with the Lakers in his free agency after this season and the Lakers playing at a championship level, the intermediate future of this team seems – for now – to be secure.

In the last ten years, the Lakers fell farther and harder than they ever had. They had missed the playoffs only four times in 53 years from the time they moved from Minneapolis to Los Angeles, then they missed them six years running. They whiffed on more than half a dozen high-profile attempts to sign any max-contract caliber player, all while looking at the retired numbers and wondering where they went wrong. They were, over that span, the worst team in the league by the record.

Finally, though, fans have every reason to be hopeful. The two players they have leading their team are both going to be first-ballot Hall of Famers. Even should they fail, for whatever reason, to deliver a championship, they will not fail to be in the conversation every year they play together.

They are playing the sort of crowd-pleasing basketball that made this team the most followed in the world. The front office – following Johnson’s departure – has chosen to remain silent and let the results speak for themselves. They are speaking so loudly no one seems to notice the conspicuous silence at the top of the Lakers organization.

No one really knows if the tandem of James and Davis will win a Finals. There are, as always at the highest levels of athletic competition, dozens of things that could derail their efforts. Yet, for the first time in years, it feels as though the Lakers are making the correct moves and seeing the fruits of their labor. Whatever the next ten years look like for this team, it will not look like the last.

For part 1, click here.


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The Lost Decade – Part 1 (2010-16)

(Image/Pinterest)

A once-dominant franchise looked into the abyss. Then, improbably, it found its way again.

Pau Gasol grabbed the rebound, turned, and quickly tossed the ball to Lamar Odom. Odom, checking the clock, hurled the ball down court to no one in particular as the final seconds of the game ticked away. Kobe Bryant chased the ball down and, making his way slowly and emotionally through a sea of elated teammates and confetti, mounted the scorer’s table to commune with the delirious crowd at Staples Center.

It was June 16, 2010, and the Los Angeles Lakers had just secured their franchise its 16th championship and second in a row, this one over the rival Boston Celtics. The core of Bryant, Gasol, Odom, and Andrew Bynum looked to remain intact for years as Bynum entered his athletic prime. Jeff Van Gundy spoke for much of the basketball world when he said on the broadcast just after that Game 7 victory, “there’s no reason to think this team couldn’t three-peat.”

(Image/Nathaniel Butler/NBA)

But they didn’t. That failure, and the team’s increasingly desperate efforts to secure Bryant a championship-caliber team for his final years in the league, set in motion a cascade of misfortunes that saw the Lakers fail to see playoff basketball for six years running – far and away from the longest such streak in franchise history. Now, ten years after Bryant hopped onto that table clinging to the game ball, the Lakers are once again hunting the ultimate prize.

The Decline

During the 2010 playoff run, there had been signs that the Lakers and Spurs were no longer as far ahead of the Western Conference as they had been for ten years. The Lakers had to endure two bruising series – in the first round against a rising Oklahoma City Thunder team featuring Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden and in the conference finals against Carmelo Anthony and the gritty Denver Nuggets – before even seeing Boston. 

The team’s off-season moves in 2010, adding wing defender Matt Barnes and backup guard Steve Blake while re-signing Derek Fisher, were meant to ensure the depth and defensive toughness needed to fend off up-and-coming-teams in the West. The Lakers managed to post a 57-25 regular season in 2010-2011, good for the second seed in the competitive West and identical to the team’s 2009-2010 performance. Odom became the first Laker to win 6th Man of the Year.

Yet, in the second round of the playoffs, the Lakers were dominated by a Dallas Mavericks team playing a surprisingly modern brand of basketball. Combining Dirk Nowitzki‘s smooth jumper and isolation play with Jason Kidd‘s pick and roll dominance and spacing the floor for them with a bench full of shooters, they clinically dissected the vaunted Laker defense in four games.

The Lakers’ frustration with their inability to slow down the Dallas attack boiled over in the 4th quarter of a 30-point blowout in Game 4, when Bynum delivered a forearm shot to an airborne J.J. Barea, ensuring that he would begin the 2011-2012 campaign with a suspension. The ugliness of the hit and the game in which it took place to cast a pall over the Lakers’ off-season. There was a sense that major changes would have to be made.

(Image/Tom Fox/Dallas Morning News)

The first change came immediately after the playoffs, when longtime head coach Phil Jackson, who had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, announced his retirement. Former Cavaliers coach Mike Brown, freshly fired after consecutive 60 win seasons coaching LeBron James, was hired to replace him.

Then the off-season was derailed by a stalemate between the league and the Players’ Association on a new collective bargaining agreement. Training camp, preseason and the month of November passed without a resolution. In the meantime, budding superstar Chris Paul had informed the then-New Orleans Hornets that he did not intend to resign with the team the following year.

Seeking a younger star whose prime – alongside Bynum’s – would prolong the Lakers’ championship window for Bryant, and with one eye on Bryant’s eventual retirement, Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak made his move. A three-team deal was arranged that would move Paul to the Lakers and Gasol to the Rockets, with New Orleans being compensated with several rotation players in Odom, Goran Dragic, Luis Scola, and Kevin Martin, along with a first-round pick from Houston.

But the basketball world was to be stunned twice on the same day. Only hours after the trade was reported, Commissioner David Stern announced that he was vetoing it because New Orleans, which was owned by the league at the time, had received what he considered inadequate compensation.

(Image/Getty Images)

Fury among smaller market owners at the persistent ability of large markets and big-name teams to lure young stars away from their own teams – and still stinging from James’ dramatic departure from Cleveland to Miami the previous year – was rumored to have played a part in the decision to prevent the Lakers from pairing Paul and Bryant. In any case, the deal that sent Paul to the Clippers shortly thereafter was not obviously more advantageous for New Orleans than the one offered by the Rockets and Lakers from a basketball perspective.

Meanwhile, the cancellation of the trade put the Lakers in an extremely awkward position relative to Odom and Gasol, who had been made painfully aware that they were considered expendable. Odom voiced his displeasure openly and was speedily dealt with Dallas to prevent further unpleasantness.

Gasol clearly wasn’t pleased with the idea of being moved but took a philosophical approach. “I understand (Lamar’s) response, and I understand how he felt about it and how you could feel that way. But you have to look at it from a different perspective and not try to take it so personally.”

After serving his suspension when the season finally began in late December, Andrew Bynum played like a potential franchise cornerstone. Putting up career numbers in both points and rebounds at 18.7ppg and 11.6rpg, he peppered the season with several exceptional individual performances. Alongside Bryant and Gasol, he helped lead the team to a 41-25 record in the lockout-shortened season, good for third in the west.

Yet again, however, the second round and eventual Western Conference champion proved too much for the Lakers. This time, it was Durant, Westbrook, and the Thunder who sent them off in a one-sided 4-1 series. The Thunder were big enough to compete with the Lakers’ elite size but did so on younger legs and with superior athleticism. Durant put on a scoring display against his former idol Bryant, and once again a Laker team with title aspirations found itself at home watching the Conference Finals.

(Image/Richard A. Rowe/OKC Thunder)

At this point, the Lakers and Bryant himself began to grow desperate to build a roster that was capable of championship contention. It was increasingly clear that the roster as it was, two years older since their last real playoff run and missing major contributors from that year, was simply not able to beat elite teams in the postseason anymore. Rumors pointedly connecting the Lakers to Dwight Howard began to circulate.

The Dwightmare

The first domino to fall in the fateful summer of 2013 was not Howard, but Steve Nash. Nash and the Phoenix Suns had mutually agreed to part ways, and executed a sign-and-trade that involved the Lakers sending two first and two second-round draft picks for his services. An all-time great facilitator and shooter, Nash remained widely respected around the league but faced questions about his health and advanced age at 38.

Then a month later the larger shoe – both literally and figuratively – dropped. In a ludicrously complicated deal involving four teams, the Lakers gave up Bynum and two more lightly protected draft picks and received as compensation Howard, Earl Clark, and Chris Duhon. With the addition of bona fide superstars in Howard and Nash to pair with Bryant and Gasol, the Lakers seemed poised to return to the top of NBA basketball.

The combined Nash and Howard trades were recognized at the time to represent a colossal risk, but with a potentially colossal payoff. The talent level alone provided championship potential if everything went right. There were, however, a disconcerting preponderance of things that could go wrong.

(Image/Sports Illustrated)

First among worries about the new team was health. Howard was coming into the year in recovery from back surgery, and Nash had back concerns as well as his age to contend with.

The second was the scheme. Coach Mike Brown had made the decision to utilize a Princeton offense. He made the decision well before the Nash and Howard trades and may have done well to reconsider. The offense, which emphasized screening and passing reads over post isolation for bigs, was more suited to the combination of Bynum and Gasol than Howard, who expected to be a focal point of the Lakers offense from the low post.

Perhaps most importantly of all, Howard’s free agency at the end of the season loomed over everyone.

Things began to go wrong very quickly. The team lost all 8 of its pre-season games and first three of the regular season as they struggled to integrate both new players and a new scheme. Nash suffered a non-displaced leg fracture in the second game of the year and missed almost two months. Howard, looking to make a point, played from the beginning of the year in spite of expectations that his surgery could keep him out until January. He was never 100%.

Coach Brown finally won a game with his new team against Detroit on November 4 and was promptly fired. The front office was very impatient to see a team with so much talent come together, and quickly reached a judgment that Brown wasn’t the man for the job. After a brief flirtation with bringing back Phil Jackson, who requested time to consider, the Lakers instead brought in former Nash coach and offensive mind Mike D’Antoni.

Injuries and a lack of clear roles continued to hurt the Laker’s record and their chemistry. Nash and Bryant were frequently at odds with Howard, who continued to push for post-up opportunities instead of embracing the more active role prescribed for bigs in D’Antoni’s fast-paced offense.

“It’s been difficult really to get him into that game – running into pick and rolls, diving hard, looking for the ball,” Nash told local media in February. “We really haven’t found that rhythm from him yet.” The Lakers limped into the All-Star break at 25-29, sitting several games out of the playoff picture.

The day after the All-Star game, Dr. Buss died after a long fight with cancer, leaving the running of the team to his six children, principally Jeanie and Jim. It appeared to be symbolic: the man who had turned the Lakers into “Showtime” and seen them win 10 championships in his 33 years of ownership passing away just as his team seemed to be unraveling in slow motion.

After the break, as the team fought through injuries and continued friction in the locker room, it was Bryant who began to simply take over. Securing game after game with exceptional individual performances for a player in his 17th season, Bryant leads the Lakers to a league-best 20-8 mark following the All-Star game. He was himself fighting through a host of small injuries, and his minutes and intensity were so high during this stretch that Kupchak reportedly spoke to Bryant about preserving his body. Bryant replied that his efforts were needed to secure a playoff spot.

He paid the price with three games to go in the season. Making a move late in a game against the Golden State Warriors, Bryant hit the floor on a foul call, reaching immediately for his ankle. After hitting his free throws, he went to the locker room and did not return. After the game, the team confirmed that Bryant had torn his Achilles tendon. The injury, everyone knew, effectively ended the Lakers season. Bryant had dragged them into the playoffs, but without him, the Lakers had no chance against Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs in the first round.

(Image/ Hans Gutknecht/Los Angeles Daily News)

With Nash out from a lingering back issue that came attached with nerve damage and Bryant out for the better part of a year, the Lakers blitzed Howard with over-the-top shows of affection in an attempt to convince him to re-sign after a dumpster fire of a season. They did not work. Howard chose to leave the pressure of Los Angeles – reportedly after ownership refused to part ways with Bryant – and team up instead with James Harden in Houston.

Howard’s departure, while not entirely unforeseen, still came as a gut punch to the organization. For the second time in a decade – along with Shaquille O’Neal‘s trade request after the 2004 season – a star center had decided to leave Los Angeles rather than continue playing with Bryant. Howard was gone, Nash was approaching 40 with chronic back issues, and Bryant had just had his 17th NBA season ended by one of the most devastating injuries in sports. Adding insult to injury, the Lakers had given up a slew of draft picks to acquire Nash and Howard, limiting their ability to make additional moves to stop the bleeding.

The Lakers were out of options, forced to acknowledge something that they had avoided for decades. For the next several years, the last of Bryant’s career, they were going to be a bad team.

Rock Bottom

With little expectation that Bryant would be available for much if any of the 2013-2014 season, the team put together what amounted to a discount roster. They realized they weren’t likely to see playoff basketball and decided to plan for the following year instead, padding the roster with light contracts while moving their long term commitments. They could use the draft picks remaining to them to draft or trade for promising talent and pair that talent with Bryant and Nash to attract free agents when the season was over, or so the front office reasoned.

Yet, astonishingly given his injury status and age, early in the season the Lakers made Bryant the highest-paid player in basketball with a two-year contract extension. The team framed the widely-criticized contract as a loyalty move, rewarding Bryant for sticking with the team and delivering with such regularity. The unavoidable fact, however, was that giving so much money to Bryant limited the team’s ability to put together a title-caliber roster, even if a star free agent chose to join them.

(Image/Orange County Register)

After a surprising 13-13 start, the season regressed to expectations. Bryant miraculously returned from his Achilles injury in December only to go down a week later with a broken bone in his knee, once again out for the season. Nash, constantly struggling with back issues, played only 15 games and was unable to make an impact even when playing. The Lakers finished 27-55, losing the most games in franchise history. The leading scorer for the season was Nick Young at just over 17ppg, edging out an aging Gasol.

Over the summer of 2014, the Lakers drafted promising Kentucky forward Julius Randle and little-known guard Jordan Clarkson from Missouri. They also parted ways with Coach D’Antoni and replaced him with Showtime-era Laker, Kobe Bryant mentor, and former NBA Coach of the Year Byron Scott. Looking to pair a max-contract caliber player with Bryant and Nash, the Lakers and Gasol parted in free agency after 6 years and 2 title runs.

After making concerted efforts to sign Carmelo Anthony or Kyle Lowry in free agency and even making a long-shot pitch to LeBron James, the Lakers found themselves empty-handed. No elite player wanted to attach themselves to a roster with two injured, aging stars and a collection of unproven youths and mediocre role players surrounding them. Bryant’s contract had predictably become an albatross, helping to keep elite free agents away because market-savvy players knew the team wouldn’t have the money left over for a high-level supporting cast.

The front office entered a holding pattern, repeating its process from the previous year by padding out the roster with cheap, short-term contracts and waiting out the season.

The Lakers’ 2014-2015 season was aptly summarized on opening night when Randle went down with a broken leg that ended his rookie season in an 18-point home loss to Houston. Clarkson played very well throughout the season in a role enlarged by injuries, but he was the lone bright spot in another lost year.

Bryant, returning from his second consecutive season-ending injury at 37, was a shell of himself and only able to play 35 games. Nash never saw the court, choosing to retire instead of continuing injuring his back. The team finished 21-61, breaking the previous year’s record for most losses in Laker history.

Armed with the second overall pick in 2015, the Lakers selected lefty point guard D’Angelo Russell and supplemented him late in the first round with a freak athlete in Larry Nance, Jr. As in the previous two years, however, the Lakers struck out on top-flight free agents. They made runs at LaMarcus Aldridge and Marc Gasol, but with the state of their roster never merited serious consideration. Embarrassingly, the Lakers asked a bemused Aldridge for a second free agency meeting after media reports surfaced that he had been unimpressed with their first attempt. He chose the Spurs. The Lakers instead added Roy Hibbert, Lou Williams, and Brandon Bass.

The 2015-2016 season was widely expected to be Bryant’s last, and he confirmed that shortly after the season began. With that announcement and the acknowledgment that the preponderance of youth on the team made playoff contention unlikely, the season became the Kobe Bryant Farewell Tour. Crowds everywhere he went cheered him wildly while their teams beat up on the Lakers on the court. He did his best to perform, but as he said, he no longer had much left to give.

During the season, the team suffered from chemistry issues as Russell struggled with his maturity and the old-school, tough love mentality of Coach Scott. Navigating the locker room and coach while playing in the shadow of Bryant’s last year, all while finding his role alongside similarly ball-dominant guards in Bryant and Clarkson, made Russell’s rookie year a difficult one.

The Lakers’ 17-65 record was, for the third year running, the worst in their history. Kobe Bryant provided fans with one final show, dropping 60 in his final game and leading an improbable last-minute comeback on his way out. That game and another second overall pick for the upcoming 2016 draft were bittersweet compensation for Laker fans watching their franchise cornerstone retire with no obvious heir. The team remained in shambles.

(Image/Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

Given his fraught relationship with both Russell and the three-point line, Scott was fired after the season and replaced with the highly-sought-after Warriors assistant coach Luke Walton. The Lakers used their second overall pick to draft a lanky wing with elite two-way potential in Brandon Ingram. He created with Randle and Russell a core of young players with complementary skill-sets to develop in Bryant’s absence. Walton, known as a player-friendly coach, was considered (at the time) an excellent choice to execute that development.

Jim Buss, in charge of basketball operations, and Kupchak, then made a pair of very bad decisions. The NBA salary cap was given an unexpectedly large boost in 2016 based on an extremely lucrative television deal just signed by the league. As a result, several players that summer received absurdly large contracts from cash-drunk teams. Two of the worst contracts of the summer though were given out by Buss and Kupchak.

Shortly after the beginning of free agency, apparently resigned to the reality that they still had no significant interest from high-level free agents, they announced the signings of center Timofey Mozgov and wing, Luol Deng, to 4-year contracts worth $64 and $72 million, respectively. Even in the irrationally exuberant summer of 2016, the length and size of the contracts for aging role players were widely mocked across the league.

Buss and Kupchak had shackled the young Laker players to Deng and Mozgov for their formative years, and by overpaying the two veterans so extravagantly had made it essentially impossible for the Lakers to sign a max-level player without moving one of them.

Additionally, as a consequence of the Howard trade years earlier, unless the Lakers draft pick for 2017 fell in the top 3, they would lose their first-round picks for 2017 and 2018. If the young Lakers proved to be good and the team won, their rebuild might be strangled by the loss of draft picks. If the team was bad enough to keep its draft picks, it would probably mean that the young players weren’t as valuable as expected. The Lakers, rival executives began to say more and more loudly, were now just another team.

For part 2, click here.


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3 Ways in Which Kyle Kuzma Can Improve Going into 2020

Oklahoma City Thunder v Los Angeles Lakers
(Image/Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

The Los Angeles Lakers have started the season on fire and have maintaining the best record in the NBA, one of their key pieces has yet to fully ignite as of yet. With so much at stake going forward, how can Kyle Kuzma step it up going into 2020?

The Los Angeles Lakers have been a juggernaut to start the season, with a league’s best record and team chemistry at an all-time high, things are really looking up for the purple and gold. For fans of the Lakers, this moment in time feels so sweet.

With the memory of Kobe Bryant‘s torn Achilles still etched into the memory of Lakers fans, The Chris Paul trade being vetoed, Dwight Howard leaving for Houston, numerous lottery picks and missing the playoffs year after year. Finally, Lakersnation has a team that makes all of the heartaches of the past feel like a distant memory.

When talking about this team, much of the plaudits must be given to the likes of General Manager Rob Pelinka for assembling the team, Coach Frank Vogel for executing the gameplan on a nightly basis and keeping the team in the top 10 on both ends of the floor and to LeBron James and Anthony Davis who have been incredible so far this season.

With Davis and LeBron both considered MVP candidates, it is easy to see how the Lakers are off to such a fast start.

While the likes of AD and LeBron are playing incredible, one player that huge things were expected of is Kyle Kuzma.

While being the last remaining member of the Laker’s beloved young core, Kuzma was kept in hope that he would reach the next level of his development and become the 3rd defacto star for the purple and gold. As of right now, Kuzma has fallen far short of expectation.

A lot of the blame can be put on the ankle injury which he received whilst playing for Team USA, which in turn forced Kuz to miss training camp and pre-season. In essence, Kuzma has been playing catch up all season.

With the season far from over, there is still plenty of time for Kuzma to find a rich vein of form, if this happens, the Lakers could be an even scarier team then they have shown.

Here are 3 ways in which Kyle Kuzma can improve going forward this season:

Los Angeles Lakers
(Image/Logan Riely/NBAE)

Buy into the Kevin Love role

There is nobility in being the 3rd star on a championship-contending team. For every LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, you have a Chris Bosh, for every Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, you have Lamar Odom and for every LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, you have Kevin Love.

The role of the 3rd star is to sacrifice individually in order for the team to succeed as a unit.

Kevin Love was an absolute monster for the Minnesota Timberwolves. His ability to rebound, shoot from anywhere and be the number one option on the Timberwolves team made him a multiple time all-star and widely considered one of the best power forwards in the NBA.

However, upon Love’s arrival in Cleveland, he realized that his role was going to drastically change.

When you have transcendent talents such as LeBron James and Kyrie Irving on your roster, you do everything in order to put them in the best position to win. Which meant forcing Love into a role he has never done throughout his basketball career. 

The Cavaliers asked Love to grab rebounds and spot up from the 3-point line. For a superstar, swallowing your pride and doing what is best for the team is a humbling experience.

Love did this for the Cavaliers and in return he won a ring.

While Kyle Kuzma isn’t the same caliber of star Kevin Love is, the message remains the same, grab rebounds, outlet the ball to LeBron or AD and wait on the wings for a spot-up 3-point shot.

If Kuzma can hit the 3-point shot at an above-average rate, he has the potential to be a 20ppg scorer. He has the confidence in his shot, he has the ability and if he buys into his role fully, he will be the 3rd star the Los Angeles Lakers need.

Los Angeles Lakers
(Image/Joe Murphy/NBAE)

Continue to work hard on defense

Needless to say, so far in Kyle Kuzma’s career, we can safely say that being an elite defender has not been one of his calling cards.

Kuzma since being drafted has been guilty of getting beat by his opposing player for an easy basket or a pull-up jumper right in his face. This has caused a lot of frustration not just for his coaches and fellow teammates but also for fans of the purple and gold.

The most frustrating aspect for all involved is knowing that Kuzma is a willing defender, who is willing to work hard but his technique on the defensive end left a lot to be desired.

Kuzma’s main problem on defense is his footwork. While some of the best defenders in the NBA slide their feet in order to stay in front of their man, Kuzma would bounce on the soles of his feet, this led to players easily reading Kuzma’s footwork and throwing in hesitations and head fakes in order to get Kuzma off balance allowing the opposing player to get easy buckets.

With the likes of Frank Vogel, Jason Kidd, Lionel Hollins, and Phil Handy on staff, Kuzma has a wealth of knowledge in order to improve as a defender.

The effects of their tutelage have already been seen in Kuzma’s game. While he is still prone occasionally to bounce on the soles of his feet, he has also slowly but surely worked that out of his game and adopted the more conventional slide technique which will allow him to stay in front of his man.

Kuzma has the quickness to stay in front of his man, he has the hard-working mentality to want to get better and he is willing to put the effort in to be the best player he can be on both sides of the ball.

Continued development with the coaching staff could have Kuzma being a defensive stopper of sorts, rather than being a turnstile.

Los Angeles Lakers
(Image/Logan Riely/NBAE)

Become the 2nd Unit leader

Having been a mainstay in the Lakers starting line-up for much of his Laker’s career, it must have come as a surprise to Kyle Kuzma this off-season that he was being asked to come off the bench after being successful in the starting line-up alongside LeBron.

Adding an otherworldly talent in Anthony Davis will force you to make changes.

The Lakers so far have been spot on in moving Kuzma to the bench. With AD and LeBron playing incredibly together, it makes no sense to stick Kuzma into the starting line-up. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

While Kuzma hasn’t exactly been great in the 2nd unit as of yet as he has been working his way back to fitness, the Lakers should be encouraging Kuz to take a larger role in the team and lead the 2nd unit.

Kuzma, while young has the perfect attributes to be a leader of men. In Kyle Kuzma, you have a young man who has grown up in Flint, Michigan, who did not get many Division I offers to play college ball, who was overlooked the majority of his college career. He used people overlooking his talent and skill and turned that into fuel for the fire.

Kuzma is a hard worker who wants to get better at his craft and learn every day, willing to reach out to the titans of the game such as Kobe Bryant in order to learn everything he can in order to be the most well-rounded player he can be. His hard-working demeanor has garnered him respect from teammates significantly older than him. Kuzma has earned his place every step of the way and knows that if he doesn’t work hard it could all disappear.

With a player of his mentality, you need to challenge him to do more. While LeBron James and Anthony Davis are the Superstars, Kuzma can play the role of the leader of the 2nd unit.

This would allow for Kuz to dominate in the second unit and put the pressure on the other teams 2nd unit. This can elongate the Laker’s lead making it much easier to put teams away early on.

Kyle Kuzma’s talent is undeniable, he has the God-given ability to be a superstar. If he can realize this potential, then the purple and gold have another star on their hands.

Here is hoping everything clicks together on time in order for the Lakers to make a deep playoff run.


Lakers Fanclub UK are proud affiliate partners of Fanatics UK and the NBA Store Europe. We do possess unique promotional codes for both websites that can offer our readers and followers 10% off site-wide through the following weblinks.

Fanatics UK: http://tinyurl.com/y4vjv32b and enter the promotional code LAKERSUK10 at checkout to receive 10% off. This is not limited to just NBA apparel, but the discount can be used on MLB, NFL, NHL, Football/Soccer gear also!

NBA Store Europe: http://tinyurl.com/y585vud9 and enter the promotional code LAKERSUK10 at checkout. This is not limited to Lakers gear, the discount is available site-wide on any product you wish to purchase!