Los Angeles Lakers 2022-23 NBA preview: Can LeBron James and Anthony Davis bring LA back to relevance?



Where do we start? In about 18 months, the Los Angeles Lakers went from NBA champions to deserving lottery fodder. They fired their coach. They returned the roster three offseasons in a row. Their two best players cannot stay healthy. They owe $47 million to a player no one wants. More than half of their roster is expected to earn minimum wage. Why, someone even hacked the team owner’s Twitter account to try and sell PS5s.

And yet, if you look at the championship odds available on Caesars Sportsbook… you’ll see the Lakers nestled comfortably between the Denver Nuggets, who have the reigning two-time MVP, and the Miami Heat, who came one shot away from reaching the NBA Finals. last season, at +1800. That’s the power of having two superstars.

Under the employment of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the Lakers should be taken seriously. The last time they stayed healthy for an entire season, they won a championship. Not a single one of their teammates from that 2020 title race is wearing purple and gold yet, but the versions of James and Davis we saw in the Orlando bubble were so good they probably could have won with just about anyone.

The Lakers will test that theory this season with a roster made up mostly of free agent remnants, unheralded youngsters and veterans desperate to change their careers. So let’s take a look at the biggest questions facing this group, aside from the medical questions surrounding James and Davis. Here are the main storylines surrounding the 2022-23 Los Angeles Lakers.

Key changes

Listing

Player

Position

Age

Patrick Beverly

Guardian

34

Troy Brown Jr.

Forward

23

Thomas Bryant

Center

25

Max Christi

Guardian

19

Anthony Davis

Forward

29

Wenyen Gabriel

Forward

25

james lebron

Forward

37

Damien Jones

Center

27

Kendrick Nunn

Guardian

27

Scottie Pippen Jr.

Guardian

21

Austin Reaves

Guardian

24

Denis Schroder

Guardian

29

cole swider

Forward

23

Juan Toscano Anderson

Forward

29

Lonnie Walker IV

Forward

23

Russell Westbrook

Forward

33

Top of the Key: So… Russ?

The Lakers don’t want Russell Westbrook. We know because they just spent an entire summer trying to trade it. Russell Westbrook doesn’t want to be a Laker. We know because his former agent basically told us. Typically, the NBA will grant these miserable partners a divorce, but none of the league’s other 29 clubs are willing to relieve the Lakers of that $47 million anchor around their necks. So here we are, nearly six months after one of the most incredible exit interviews you’ve ever seen, we’re getting ready to watch Russell Westbrook play his second season in Los Angeles.

Everyone talks about a good game. New coach Darvin Ham says he wants to “diversify” and “redirect” Westbrook’s energy towards defense and off-ball movement. Rob Pelinka swears that “he is ready to do whatever it takes to make this team win, whatever role that means”. Westbrook himself still thinks the trio of himself, James and Davis can be “unstoppable”. It should be noted that the Ham manager has still not committed to including Westbrook in his starting line-up.

Liters of ink have been poured over the theoretical concept of “Roleplayer Russ”. The basketball world has asked him to cut, screen, defend and chill with mid-range jumpers his entire career. Nothing has compelled Westbrook to take on such a role before. Maybe the season of hell makes him change his mind. If it’s not the case ? Well, remember, the NBA is rapidly degrading on players. Allen Iverson played his last NBA game at the age of 34. Westbrook’s 34th birthday is in November. The Lakers are giving him a chance to become the kind of player who can help James and Davis win. He might not have another.

Next step: Hamming it up

How many first-time head coaches have ever been tasked with a tougher job than Darvin Ham? Forget all the drama, the hurts and the broken roster. Think of the coach he replaces. Frank Vogel has led three separate No. 1-ranked defenses. He last did so in 2021, when he got just 81 games combined from James and Davis. The Lakers have praised Ham for the defense-first culture he’s building in Los Angeles. The roster is geared towards something of a defensive renaissance after a disappointing 21st place finish a season ago. And the coach he will be measured against is one of the most accomplished defensive leaders of the past decade.

Everywhere you look, that kind of specter hangs over Ham. He coaches the team formerly led by Phil Jackson and Pat Riley. He has arguably the greatest player of all time on his roster. And he has to figure out how to handle all those distractions and expectations without prior experience as a head coach.

Only time will tell what kind of manager Ham will be. It could turn out to be a very good one. There’s almost no way to say he’s bad given the monumental task the Lakers have given him. There may not be a coach in NBA history capable of leading this team to the championship hunt. But what if Ham managed to do it? Start preparing his Hall of Fame plaque.

One more thing: losing balance

Part of what made the 2020 Lakers so special was their roster flexibility. JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard gave them elite rim protection in the Twin Towers lineups next to Davis, but the Lakers could just as easily downsize with Davis or even Markieff Morris at center. Morris and Kuzma ticked the box for versatile forwards on every team’s wish list. Their supply of 3-and-D guards was virtually endless between Alex Caruso, Danny Green, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Avery Bradley. They even had a Hall of Fame spare creator to dust off for the final rounds when playoff Rondo emerged from its regular-season hibernation to wreak havoc in the bubble. They could play any style and dictate the terms of engagement to any opponent.

Take a look at the list above. After James and Davis, who is the most accomplished striker? Toscano-Anderson? He wasn’t even in Golden State’s playoff rotation. Their two centers do the minimum. Meanwhile, between Schroder, Reaves, Beverley, Nunn, Walker and Westbrook, there are far more guards than rotation slots available. It’s an incredibly small team.

It couldn’t exactly be avoided. This is what happens when you create a list with minimum salaries. Players like Kuzma command a lot more. The Lakers could have taken high-risk hits on a few more forwards, but the most proven talent available came at guard. They chose talent over versatility. Maybe they’ll find a way to balance their roster as the season progresses, but for now Ham have to figure out how to juggle a group of players who largely do the same things.

Key games

October 18 at Warriors: Last season began with the Lakers, as Western Conference favorites, hosting the Warriors, just looking to return to the playoffs after a surprising jaunt down the lottery road. Oh, how the tables have turned. Now it’s the Lakers looking to prove themselves against their in-state rival, and if Westbrook repeats his dismal eight-point outing after that loss, the result will be the same as last season.

October 20 vs. Clippers: When was the last time James, Davis, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George all shared the same pitch? That was December 2020. What once looked like the NBA’s newest major rivalry has been pending for nearly two calendar years. Now that the Clippers are healthy and the Lakers are on the ropes, you can bet Leonard and George will want to prove a point against their Crypto.com roommates.

Nov. 13 vs. Nets: At this point, we’ll probably have a good idea of ​​whether Westbrook 2.0 is really working for the Lakers. If it’s not the case ? Expect a hearty footy game between James and former teammate Kyrie Irving, who the Lakers have been pursuing via trade this offseason.