Lakers news: LeBron James believes in LA to repeat as NBA champions

NBA rumors: Draymond Green trade to team up with LeBron James and the Lakers?
Oct 11, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) holds up four fingers after winning his fourth NBA championship after game six of the 2020 NBA Finals at AdventHealth Arena. The Los Angeles Lakers won 106-93 to win the series. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James has spoken out about the Purple and Gold’s championship chances ahead of the 2020-21 season, and The King believes his squad can ascend to claim the Larry O’Brien Trophy once again.

LeBron hasn’t pulled off back-to-back titles since winning his first two with the Miami Heat as part of a core that featured future Hall of Famer Dwyane Wade and perennial All-Star Chris Bosh. It bodes well for the Lakers to say the least that the 35-year-old legend is hyping Los Angeles up this much.

Lakers news: LeBron cites youth, depth in hyping championship repeat

In a podcast interview on on Spectrum SportsNet, as transcribed by ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin, LeBron appeared optimistic about a fifth career championship heading into training camp for his 18th NBA season, but while praising the offseason roster retooling, he offered the caveat that his team needed to stay healthy:

“We can [repeat]. I mean, it’s that simple. […] First of all, it all starts with health. You have to have some luck. You have to have health. If we can stay healthy.

[…] We did get younger. We have a 27-year-old point guard [in Schroder]. We got the 27-year-old Sixth Man of the Year award [winner] in Trezz…We got Marc, who is a Defensive Player of the Year and his IQ, not only playing against him in the NBA, but also playing against him versus Spain with the national team.”

Spectrum SportsNet (via ESPN.com)

Indeed, LeBron’s supporting cast is younger and also potentially better than the players who flanked him en route to the NBA Finals this past postseason, where the Lakers prevailed over the Miami Heat in six games.

Not to take anything away from that accomplishment, but as LBJ himself said, luck does play a part in any championship run. Not having to face the Clippers, who blew a 3-1 series lead in the conference semifinals, was a stroke of good fortune. Then, Miami was without Goran Dragic for the vast majority of the Finals, and Heat big man Bam Adebayo was banged up and not himself.

Lakers news: Dennis Schroder, Montrezl Harrell make LA title favorites

LeBron James and Montrezl Harrell
December 25, 2019; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Montrezl Harrell (5) shoots against Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) during the first half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

On top of retaining core pieces from last season’s squad like guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and versatile forward Markieff Morris, general manager Rob Pelinka was aggressive in upgrading the team around superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Trading away struggling sharpshooter Danny Green and big man JaVale McGee were among Pelinka’s notable deals, and Dwight Howard left in free agency along with point guard Rajon Rondo.

Despite the considerable personnel loss, Pelinka more than made up for it by whisking away Harrell from the Clippers and snatching Schroder from the Oklahoma City Thunder. These were the top two vote-getters for Sixth Man of the Year. Plus, Pelinka brought aboard 3-point marksman and defensive specialist Wesley Matthews to make up for Avery Bradley’s departure.

But the marquee moves were for Harrell and Schroder. They were the ones who lifted the Lakers in the eyes of oddsmakers from an uncertain commodity amid a loaded Western Conference to +270 favorites on FanDuel to bring another NBA championship to Los Angeles.

LeBron led the league in assists in 2019-20, but can now lean on Schroder to take on greater ball-handling duties, work off the ball and hopefully get more easy buckets around the rim, not to mention cleaner looks off the catch from 3-point range. In a lot of ways, Schroder is a younger, more explosive version of Rondo, if not possessing quite the basketball IQ and experience. Granted, who can match Rondo in those areas in today’s NBA other than King James?

How else LeBron James and the Lakers can improve in 2020-21

LeBron James' Lakers favored to repeat as NBA champions
Oct 9, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) reacts during the third quarter against the Miami Heat in game five of the 2020 NBA Finals at AdventHealth Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Beyond the mere competence of Schroder’s ball-handling abilities, he’s no slouch on the defensive end of the court, where Los Angeles was already elite a season ago, allowing 107.6 points per contest — good for fourth in the NBA. When Bradley opted out of the Orlando bubble, the Lakers missed his on-ball perimeter defense, something Schroder provides in spades and probably better than Bradley at this point in his NBA life.

Not to be left out is LA’s acquisition of center Marc Gasol, who presents a unique blend of defensive prowess and finesse in the frontcourt that the Lakers lacked before. Gasol can stretch the floor, unlike Howard and McGee, yet he’s still physical enough to bang around on the glass, take up space for teammates to slash to the rim, and forms an elite 1-2 punch with Davis in terms of protecting the paint.

Although Harrell is not a stalwart on defense, he is an undersized 4 who’s a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. He averaged 18.6 points per game last season for the Clips, who didn’t have the personnel alongside him to deal with bigger lineups, especially on defense. With any two-man combination of Gasol, Davis and James on the floor with Harrell, there’s enough size to combat any interior defensive deficiencies, further freeing up the reigning Sixth Man of the Year to wreak havoc.

Between getting more athletic and versatile big men and finding a premier perimeter player in Schroder, this Lakers squad easily goes 10-deep when you factor in Alex Caruso, who may well be the 10th man in this rotation and started in the 2020 NBA Finals.

The rest of the NBA should be scared. LeBron has a track record of transparency when discussing his thoughts on the team around him. That he’s already on the record as saying this Los Angeles bunch has what it takes to win it all is a testament to how well the Lake Show has retooled for a repeat run for 2021.