• Kaunda Chama

Are Lakers ready for Western Conference contention

The current Free Agency period in the NBA has been one of the most exciting in the league’s recent history, with so many changes that some fans might need guide sheets at the start of next season.

Numerous moves and trades took place: The most notable changes are that Anthony Davis is now a Laker, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are Nets, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are Clippers, Kemba Walker is a Celtic and Russell Westbrook is now a Rocket – and that is just a top level look at the recent changes in the NBA.

Last season was a lacklustre one for one of the league’s most celebrated franchises. The Los Angeles Lakers acquired LeBron James but there was little chemistry between him and the young core and the team finished 35-47, in 11th spot and out of the Playoffs.

The team’s performance was also attributed to James missing 17 straight regular season games after a groin injury in a game against the Golden State Warriors.

This also brought an end to James’ streak of 13 consecutive playoff appearances and eight consecutive NBA Finals appearances as the Lakers’ season concluded on April 9.

With one year down in his four-year tenure with the franchise, the Lakers went on a mission to try and pair James with one or two other superstars in order to contend for a finals appearance. After a filed first attempt, they managed to get Davis but had to let go of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and a number of picks.

Their second target was recent king maker Kawhi Leonard, who agreed to relocate to Los Angeles, but it was not to wear the purple and gold, but to join Doc Rivers’ squad next door.

The team then hired a new coach in Frank Vogel, who was previously with the Orlando Magic (2016-2018).

On the squad, the Lakers decided to keep veteran point guard Rajon Rondo and brought in Quinn Cook from the Golden State Warriors, they kept Alex Caruso and brought in Danny Green from the Toronto Raptors, they also retained Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Coldwell-Pope and JaVale McGee, and added also All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins to their cast of big men.

Before the team’s roster was finalised, one thing that was certain was that besides having some size in Davis, Cousins and McGee, Los Angeles needed some shooters around James if they wanted to consider a deep Playoffs berth next season.

The answer: Green (45.5 percent last season), Cook (40.5 percent) and Troy Daniels (38.1 percent), and Caruso (48.0 percent) proved to be a piece worth keeping by his efficiency last season.

Although it has not been confirmed that James will play point, Davis has already stated that he wants to play the 4 and not the 5 position, and having Cousins and McGee available to take care of the center will be beneficial to him not only on a nightly basis, but will also long-term help preserve his body for future seasons.

He has not been shy in stating that he likes the look of his new team, adding that he is excited about it and would put it up against any team, and feels it would take any seven-game series at the moment.

The 26-year old forward potentially has not even reached his prime yet and left the New Orleans Pelicans as the franchise’s all-time leader in scoring and rebounds.

With a backdrop that includes a new head coach and an almost completely revamped roster from last season, the Lakers are poised to enter next season with a lot of great rotation options.

The team now has better depth and a lot of talent – both veteran and young, and that is something every team strives for, but could also lead to potential chemistry problems if one key player is unhappy.

Coach Vogel has to be mindful of the team’s continual state because something like one player being unhappy with his minutes or his shots, or coming off the bench when they feel they should be a starter, could affect the locker room negatively.

All in all, the Lakers have assembled a formidable team that could make a finals appearance, however coach Vogel’s job will now be both about finding the right combination to win games as well as managing egos and maintaining harmony between the players.

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