Los Angeles Lakers
2017-18 Record: 35-47, 11th in the Western Conference
It’s hard not to start with the most glaring inclusion of the 2018 off season, the addition of LeBron James for the Lakers will make them an instant contender in the Western Conference. LeBron has competed in the last eight finals series in a row and while his road will get much tougher this year in the Western Conference, only a bold man would predict him not to be relevant in the late parts of the season.
The Lakers were able to scratch out 35 wins last season without LeBron in what was ultimately a really promising and exciting year for the young core. The likes of Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart and particularly Brandon Ingram should all improve this season and with the addition of LeBron, they should be the most improved team in terms of win/loss record in the league.
The Lakers also added a bunch of talented veterans in Rajon Rondo, Michael Beasley, JaVale McGee and Lance Stephenson which should provide a good mix of youth and experience. Granted, all of these players have been criticised for being bad teammates in the past, but it’s hard to say that LeBron won’t have a massive influence in fixing this.
While the Lakers will want to challenge for a title immediately, 2018-19 could just be a transitional year for them as they await the expiration of a bunch of less than desirable contracts before making a big push at some high-profile free agents next season. With just $60 million committed next season, the Lakers could potentially go out and sign two max contract players eg. Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant.
Off-Season Arrivals: Michael Beasley (Knicks), LeBron James (Cavaliers), Rajon Rondo (Pelicans), JaVale McGee (Warriors), Lance Stephenson (Pacers), Moritz Wagner, Isaac Bonga, Sviatoslac Mykhailiuk (draft)
Off-Season Departures: Luol Deng (Timberwolves), Channing Frye (Cavaliers), Brook Lopez (Bucks), Julius Randle (Pelicans), Isaiah Thomas (Nuggets), Tyler Ennis (waived)
What to Expect?
All that has to happen for the Lakers is for them to get into the post season with LeBron unscathed. If they can do that and avoid the Warriors in the first round, they’ll fancy themselves to make a real push at the Western Conference finals. Of course, beating the Warriors with this roster is probably out of the question, although LeBron has arguably done so with worse before.
In the end, however, we think it will be a transitional year. A bunch of one year contracts were signed by the veterans who the Lakers acquired in the off-season, so we think it’s more likely that we see plenty of reps for the combination of Ingram, Ball, Kuzma and Hart as well as some playoffs experience before the Lakers go out and land one or two monster pieces next year to make them a real contender for the championship.
Lakers fans should be excited about the young talent they have acquired over the last few years. Brandon Ingram in particular looks poised to take that next step this season and if he can, pairing him with LeBron James and the potential of signing Kawhi or Durant next year makes this team potential seriously scary. To put it simply, the Lakers are mounting a case to be the favourites for the 2019-20 NBA title.
Key Player: Brandon Ingram
Obviously, LeBron James will be the key barometer for the Lakers this season. But you know what you are going to get from LeBron. He’s the best player in the world and arguably the most durable star of the last decade. However, the more unknown quantity heading into the Lakers season is Ingram. Standing 6’9 and with a 7’3 wingspan, Ingram truly has the tools to be one of the most damaging players in the league one day, he just needs to take that next step and learn how to take a game over.
We saw glimpses of it last season as he compiled seven games of 25 points of more but he needs to be that player on a more consistent basis. He averaged 16.1 points per game in 2017-18 which is almost seven more than he did in his rookie year. We think he bumps that up to around 20 this year and asserts himself as the second-best player on the Lakers roster.
Vegas 2018-19 Win Total
The Lakers over/under currently sits at 48.5 at most outlets which we think is about spot on considering we have the Lakers finishing in seventh place in the Western Conference last year and it took the Spurs 47 wins to finish in seventh last season. The Lakers were able to win 35 games last year but we aren’t sure if LeBron makes them a full 13 games better. His win share % was 14.0 last season in one of his most dominant seasons. We think they will scrape into the playoffs in the Western Conference, but we struggle to see them winning 50 games in a loaded Western Conference.
It’s highly likely that they will get off to a poor start as so often is the case when the Lakers make a big splash in the off season. When they signed Steve Nash and Dwight Howard back in 2012 they lost 14 of their first 23 games and came back to win 45 games. We think this will similar season.