The start of training camp for the 2023-24 NBA season is just days away, and this season has the potential to be an exciting and perhaps highly successful one for the Los Angeles Lakers.
At this time last year, they were coming off a 2021-22 campaign that turned out to be an unmitigated disaster for them. The Russell Westbrook trade in the summer of 2021 had turned out badly, and they were saddled with an inept roster that seemed to have almost no viable trade assets. In other words, they were stuck between a rock and a hard place, with seemingly no way out.
But executive Rob Pelinka executed multiple trades several months ago that restocked and replenished the team with talent that fit well. It resulted in a very unexpected trip to the Western Conference Finals, and many now feel Los Angeles has a real shot at winning the NBA championship.
That impressive run, as well as some nice offseason moves, have set up quite a bit of anticipation for the 2023-24 campaign.
Lakers’ offseason moves
- New contracts or extensions were given to Austin Reaves, D’Angelo Russell, Rui Hachimura, Anthony Davis and Jarred Vanderbilt
- Taurean Prince, Gabe Vincent, Jaxson Hayes, Cam Reddish and Christian Wood were signed as free agents
- Jalen Hood-Schifino and Maxwell Lewis were taken in the draft, while Colin Castleton, D’Moi Hodge and Alex Fudge were signed to two-way contracts as undrafted free agents
Continuity has been the keyword for Pelinka. There were rumors the Lakers may make another run at Kyrie Irving or chase another third star such as Chris Paul or Trae Young. Instead, they opted to run it back and continue to build the chemistry and continuity they forged late last season by keeping all of their key free agents.
Dennis Schroder was perhaps their only key free agent who left. Replacing him is Vincent, who helped the Miami Heat reach the NBA Finals.
Although Vincent is just 6-foot-2, he may be better equipped to guard bigger players than Schroder, and he projects to be a better fit offensively. In last season’s playoffs, he made 44.6 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts, compared to 32.4 percent for Schroder.
Prince gives L.A. a legitimate 3-and-D wing, and Reddish could become one if he finally taps into the potential he has had ever since being a lottery pick in the 2019 draft.
Hayes is a very athletic and speedy center who can block shots, and Wood is truly intriguing. He is a proven scorer and 3-point shooter, as well as a fine rebounder who has had issues on the defensive end and in the locker room. But if he is on his best behavior, the 6-foot-9 big man could end up being an outstanding pickup.
Hood-Schifino, a 6-foot-6 guard out of Indiana University, and Lewis, a 6-foot-7 wing from Pepperdine University, may not play much, barring several significant injuries. But the Lakers are hoping both will pan out and become part of their collection of young and gifted players for the future.
Possible Lakers roster question marks
1. What will the starting lineup look like?
Everyone expects Reaves, LeBron James and Davis to start. However, Vincent could reportedly steal the starting point guard spot from Russell, who shot very well in the regular season but dropped off during the postseason.
After the All-Star break, Vanderbilt started at one forward spot for the Lakers. But a report from insider Jovan Buha indicated that Hachimura is actually the favorite to earn that starting spot this coming season, which would give them five legitimate scoring threats in their starting five, assuming Russell holds onto his spot.
There is also reportedly the opportunity or at least the chance that Wood, if he does well, could eventually work his way into L.A.’s starting lineup.
2. Will L.A.’s superstars stay healthy and play well?
Health has been a bugaboo for the Lakers over the last few years, as James and Davis have had multiple injuries. James missed a month near the end of last season with a right foot injury, and it was later revealed he had torn a tendon in that foot. It left him somewhat compromised during the playoffs, and the injury will need to be fully healed for him to be at his best.
If it has fully healed, will James have yet another superstar-level season? He’s entering year 21 and is 38 years of age, with a phenomenal amount of mileage on him. Luckily, the depth and talent around him should allow head coach Darvin Ham to trim his minutes and usage in order to preserve him.
Davis was dominant for much of last season, and he was a beast defensively and on the boards during the playoffs. But he had some occasional poor performances offensively, especially when opponents double-teamed him on the catch or without the ball. He and the Lakers’ coaching staff will need to find a counter to that strategy as well as ways to get him easier shots when he is struggling or looking passive.
3. Can the Lakers deal with star big men?
They do not have a wide-bodied 5 who can play legitimate one-on-one defense on prominent centers such as Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid. They may have to attempt to neutralize those centers by making them play defense, especially on the perimeter, and expend energy by running back in transition.
The Lakers’ biggest challengers in the NBA’s Western Conference
- Denver Nuggets — As the defending NBA champs, their bench may be depleted, but they still have the league’s best starting five, and they have an in-his-prime Jokic.
- Phoenix Suns — Some may question their roster construction, but they have as much star power as anyone with Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal.
- Golden State Warriors — They have gotten older, especially after trading Jordan Poole for Chris Paul, but Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are still there and looking spry.
- Los Angeles Clippers — The hype surrounding them the last few years has settled down, but the Lakers have had lots of trouble beating them head-to-head for the past 10 years.