Eha. What a season. As I try to shake off the melancholy cloud that has been haunting me since the 4-0 win for the Denver Nuggets, things are starting to clear up. Whether it’s the games just played, the games that will be played next season, or the personnel that will make the roster for said games, there is not only a lot to discuss, but also to think about.
The Nuggets took down the NBA’s best post-deadline team with ease, obliterating the Lakers with a barrage of size, shooting and enough defense to overcome them. While my words “with ease” may be misleading, considering how the Lakers have had opportunities to win every game they’ve played in this series due to the aforementioned size and shooting in the clinches, clearly now was their time. Now it’s become brutally obvious that, looking back at the outcome of the series, Denver was simply better.
One of the other major factors in the Nuggets’ regular season and playoff success was the continuity of their team. This is a Denver Nuggets roster that has featured the same core of players for almost three years now. Comparatively speaking, this is a stark contrast to the Lakers team they faced where they were only together for 3 months, not years.
Rob Pelinka and Darwin Hamm kicked off the 2022-23 Lakers exit interviews yesterday morning and discussed just that. Continuity, among other big things, are topics to consider at the start of the 2023-24 season.
LeBron James talks about his future
Outside of the Nuggets making their first NBA Finals appearance, the story of the night around the league was fueled by some comments made by LeBron James after his astonishing 40-point, 10-rebound, 9-assist game (in 2020 keep in mind ). When asked by a reporter about his thoughts on next season, James had this to say:
“We’ll see. We’ll see what happens going forward. I don’t know, I don’t know. I’ve got a lot to think about, to be honest. – Just for me personally to continue with the game of basketball … I’ve got a lot to think about.”
A cryptic message from the King of cryptic messages. The thought of a LeBron-less Lakers, let alone a LeBron-less NBA, was almost enough to put me on edge after getting swept Monday night. When asked about James’ postgame comments, Rob Pelinka had this to say Tuesday morning:
“Coach and I will be talking to LeBron in the next few days. We all know he speaks for himself. And we look forward to those conversations when the time is right. I will say this: LeBron has given as much to the game of basketball as anyone who has ever played. When you do this, you earn the right to decide whether to give more. Sometimes we put athletes, entertainers on a pedestal, but they are people. They have turning points in their careers. Our job as a Lakers organization is to support each player on our team as they reach a turning point in their career. LeBron is surrounded by amazing people. First his family, Savannah, his children. He has a great management team led by Rich and Maverick. I’m sure there will be conversations with them in the coming days. We’ll keep in touch with him, his team and really just give him support. Obviously we hope his career continues, but we just want to give him time to have that inflection point and support him along the way in everything he does.”
My initial thoughts point to just that. He is a man. He’s human enough to feel disappointed by the end of the season, he’s human enough to doubt, and he’s also human enough to step back and admit that the amount of work he’s accumulated is set in stone if he leaves the game at that point in time.
The Lakers approach seems very cool, calm and collected. He just had one of his best playoff games in quite some time while being 38 years old, with a sore leg, and in the Western Conference Finals, playing 48 minutes. For these reasons, I believe we will see him wearing the purple and gold next season, but that doesn’t mean the situation is delicate. It will be one to watch throughout this offseason.
Lakers roster continuity
Now to the aforementioned continuity. When the Lakers won the championship in 2020, they did a great job of keeping the roster together. The team had returning players like Kyle Kuzma, KCP, Alex Caruso, and Markief Morris to keep the core together with LeBron and AD, but also made incremental changes like signing Marc Gasol, Montrezl Harrell, and Dennis Schröder. This 21-22 team was arguably the best team in the NBA this season, and if not for the injuries to LeBron and AD, many believe the team would have made a deep run.
Fast forward to the next offseason, and it’s as if the Lakers forgot the definition of the word continuity. The team made the decision to disperse its depth of key players in the Russell Westbrook deal, which in retrospect may be one of the worst trades in sports history. The trade brought in a slew of new veteran minimum players who weren’t up to the task and who frankly didn’t connect in the slightest.
Los Angeles has been praying for some consistency on the roster for several seasons, and when asked about the concept of continuity, Rob Pelinka had this to say:
“We are incredibly proud of this group that made it to the Western Conference Finals. After the trade deadline, we had one of the best records in the league. I think maintaining that continuity will be very important. In the end, we got knocked out by a team that has great continuity…..That’s a high priority for us. We feel like we have a group of special players in the locker room. They love to play with each other, Darwin loves to train them. We know there is more growth and improvement in this group, especially if we run training camp together. So, I would say it’s a high priority to keep our core players together.”
Great Lakers players
And Laker Nation collectively let out a massive sigh of relief. Is it fun to search for superstars in the summer? Absolutely. But the joy of winning big games in June doesn’t come without consistency in the lineup and depth of high-value players like Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura. As for Rui and Austin, here’s what they had to say about their place on the team:
Both are sure to get paid this offseason, and those are great signs pointing to LeBron and AD getting two of their dudes back. We’ve seen what happens when you give up depth for fun, and it wasn’t much fun at all. Expect the Lakers to have a similar summer 2020 offseason, where they keep the core that works while adding additional pieces to fit throughout.
Looking ahead to the 2023-24 season
The exit interviews gave us great insight into the type of team the organization will try to bring to opening night next season. There are some very clear boxes that need to be checked this offseason. First pitch, pray LeBron doesn’t retire and force the team into a rebuilding phase. It would be an absolute shame not to see the full potential of the lineup.
The second court is securing Reaves and Hachimura, which by all accounts appears to be the Laker’s top priority this summer. The third box, as mentioned, is to maximize this current list rather than dismantle it. Go out and get a solid 6’7+ wing or two and a solid big man who can rebound and defend. Pair the #17 and #47 draft picks with the Lakers’ formidable scouting department of the Buss brothers, and we just might have something really special to look forward to next season.
On a quick personal note, this was my first season writing and covering the Los Angeles Lakers and it was nothing short of spectacular. Thanks to everyone who took the time to check out my work, and I look forward to bringing you more free agency and draft content over the summer. As always, Go Lakers.