2. Everyone’s old
Look, getting all these veterans together for one last ride, like they’re The Expendables or Love Händel is, at the very least, a ton of fun. A bunch of dudes who are battle-tested, know the task at hand, and have an extra gear to them are easy to gravitate to.
But the NBA season is not a one-time burst of energy. It’s a trek, a journey, a migration, whatever you want to call it. And if the goal is a championship, history shows that that journey has to go well. Rarely do teams get to coast through the regular season and win a title. Somewhere along the line, you have to prove why you’re great.
Given how clunky the top of the Lakers’ hierarchy is, and how old the roster is on the whole, it will be tough to pull that off all season. James will need a few nights off here and there. Anthony, Ariza, Gasol and Howard are all on the wrong side of 35, making them prime load management candidates. Davis is at least still young, but he’s got a checkered injury history himself.
Not all of Lakerland is AARP-eligible. Talen Horton-Tucker, who turns 21 mid-season, got re-signed for three years, $32 million. Nunn just turned 26 this week. Monk is just getting his second contract. Those guys will get opportunities throughout the doldrums of winter.
However, any LeBron-led team is going to suffer when he’s off the court. His monopolistic impact on the game makes it nearly impossible to fill the void when he’s not out there. The splits back this up: per Basketball-Reference, the last time a team of James’ had a positive net rating in his absence was 2013-14, his final year with the Heat.
When LeBron James isn’t out there, the team will be bad. Throw in a rest night for one or two other rotation guys, and suddenly you’re running a lottery team out there. Given what other teams did this offseason, that will be a lot less feasible.
1. The NBA is loaded
For the first time in a very, very long time, one can reasonably argue that the Eastern Conference is the better half of the NBA. With the Brooklyn Nets and their Big 3 healthy, the reigning champion Milwaukee Bucks right behind them, and several other contenders on their heels, the East has several quality teams that won’t be easy outs in the playoffs.
Then there’s the Lakers’ own conference, which is still very formidable. The Phoenix Suns, Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz all ran it back, and a few other teams will be knocking on the door too. Not all the dust has settled yet, but one thing is clear: the NBA is filled with good teams, many more than you could’ve said the past few seasons.
That makes the margin for error ever so thinner. If more teams are earnestly competing, fewer games can be penciled in as wins on your schedule. For a Lakers team that wants to coast into the playoffs, that’s tougher to pull off in a more competitive landscape—especially if LeBron misses a few games here and there.
A benefit to the multitude of good teams is that there are fewer great ones. Most pundits will put Brooklyn as the clear-cut favorite (which I do too), but after that it’s a morass of several contenders in the “1B” tier. For someone like James, who can still be the best player in the world quite often, that’s a major advantage. Superstars swing games, and he still is one. There’s no Warriors juggernaut to hold him down…yet.
However, if he misses 10-15 games, you can chalk the Lakers up for 8-12 automatic losses. And in a conference this crowded, every game will matter. Dropping to the 7 seed last year was a major reason why they lost in round one. Luka Doncic can only get better, thereby making the Dallas Mavericks more formidable.
The Lakers have amassed quite a bit of talent these past few weeks, but a lot still has to go right for them to truly be considered title contenders.