The Los Angeles Lakers fell woefully short of defending their NBA title this postseason, bowing out in the first round in a 113-100 loss to the Phoenix Suns in Game 6 on Thursday night, but that doesn’t mean the Purple and Gold need drastic offseason changes.
Once Anthony Davis went down in the first quarter after reaggravating his groin injury in Game 6, it just seemed like the 2021 NBA playoffs weren’t meant to lead to back-to-back championships for the Lakers. They put up a valiant fight to dig out of a massive deficit of as many as 29 points in the early going, but it wasn’t nearly enough.
Here are three good reasons for Los Angeles to run it back with its current core of players, rather than trying a wild chemistry experiment to maybe improve the roster before next season.
Blowing up the roster would destroy championship-caliber continuity
Dennis Schroder should be the Lakers’ primary free-agent target. They should do all they can to convince Montrezl Harrell to accept his player option, because it’d be worth seeing him in action when Los Angeles is at full strength again.
Retaining Alex Caruso may be out of LA’s price range, but that leaves a chance for someone like Talen Horton-Tucker to step up next season — provided he doesn’t leave as a restricted free agent.
Anyone who was on this Lakers team will probably feel like there’s unfinished business based on how the 2020-21 campaign played out, and how it ended. There should be a strong temptation to run it back, especially with LeBron and Davis in all their ears as convincing recruiters.
Short turnaround took its toll on superstars
This is obvious: The Lakers were limping into the postseason. AD and LeBron missed extensive time during the regular season with injuries. King James was able to gut through this Suns series, but Davis wasn’t healthy enough to do so. They had a long run to the NBA Finals in the Orlando bubble, and had to turn around and play a tight 72-game schedule. Not a good combination.
The NBA is a star-driven league, and when Los Angeles had easily its two most important players out of the lineup for such a long time, it messed with how the squad meshed. Remember, the Lake Show raced out to a 21-6 start. Everything was humming. Then injuries struck.
If there’s any silver lining to the Lakers being eliminated this early, it’s that LeBron and Davis can have extra time to recover. A high ankle sprain takes longer to recover from than when LeBron returned from it, never mind at this late stage of his career on an already-condensed schedule.
No one is expecting Davis to be healthy through a whole season, but the added recovery time may be just what he needs to flip that narrative. He’s still only 28 years old, and while the injuries have piled up over the years, there hasn’t been anything catastrophic.
It’s possible for Davis to move forward in far better health from here on out. Being around someone who cares for their body as much as LeBron can only help. No team’s pair of superstars were more ill-suited for the NBA’s quick turnaround than the Lakers. They won’t be in that situation next season.
Los Angeles Lakers can avoid distraction of wild West offseason
The other team in the City of Angels may face even bigger problems if they lose in the first round on Saturday. We’re referring to the Los Angeles Clippers, of course, whose face of the franchise, Kawhi Leonard, can opt out of his contract and hit free agency this summer should he desire to.
After the Portland Trail Blazers got bounced in the first round for the fourth time in five years, it’s unclear what their plans are to build around Damian Lillard. The Dallas Mavericks badly need to upgrade the talent around Luka Doncic, and one of his key teammates, Tim Hardaway Jr., is hitting the open market.
Chris Paul is reportedly expected to opt out of his contract with the Suns, which makes them a total wild card. Then, the Utah Jazz will have to deal with being the team to beat as the reigning regular-season champs. They may press to improve their roster, or stay pat while other teams improve.
Against that backdrop, it doesn’t make a ton of sense for the Lakers to go on some wild transaction spree, or completely shake up their current core of players. To reiterate, players have routinely taken pay cuts to play alongside LeBron, and Davis’ presence, not to mention the allure of Tinseltown, makes LA an attractive destination for any player serious about winning a championship.
That’s why it’d be a lot better for the Lakers to focus on their own free agents, to make some minor moves here and there, but to avoid a knee-jerk overreaction to what’s happened in the past week or so. As long as AD and LeBron are right, they’ll be just fine.