Questions for the West’s best
Are these Lakers the most talented LeBron team ever?
BY DAVID THORPE
Somewhere in Serbia, Nikola Jokić might finally start thinking about work again. He could ask his few Western Conference peers like LeBron, Kevin Durant, and Stephen Curry: Repeating as NBA champion is really, really fucking hard. And this year, expect LeBron’s Lakers to put up a much better fight.
The Nuggets still have the world’s best player and will vie for the conference title, the Suns have a new look; the Clippers are still the deeper team; the Warriors have the band back together; but the Lakers are stacked.
I think the 2024 champion will come from the Western Conference. It might be too early to tell, other than to say that no one should count out LeBron and the Lakers.
How will Lakers’ coach Darvin Ham perform in Year Two?
The Lakers are fucking loaded. Loaded.
Let’s put Anthony Davis and LeBron James aside for a second. D’Angelo Russell is elite on offense and capable on D, and Rui Hachimura was good for them offensively in the playoffs; now both have had a whole offseason with the team. Team USA standout Austin Reaves, who seems poised to take a big step forward, is maybe the Lakers’ fifth-best player on paper. They could even start Jarred Vanderbilt with Hachimura functioning as a second-unit scorer.
They added more good players, too. Jaxson Hayes, though he’s been a disappointment thus far, is super athletic and should be ascending—ditto for Cam Reddish. But both should have better-defined roles. Taurean Prince is solid as a shooter, and tough-nosed Gabe Vincent comes with NBA Finals experience and might get the late-game minutes over Russell if defense is needed more. Newest addition Christian Wood is not really a five, but he gives the Lakers another bench scorer, especially as a shooter.
But how will LeBron and Anthony Davis mesh with Wood, who isn’t known as the most professional player? LeBron has no tolerance for players showing up late or shirking their game prep. But Wood has a chance to start next to AD, giving the Lakers tons of flexibility with Vanderbilt and Hachimura off the bench. Plus, even though he’s played next to Luka, Wood has never played next to anyone like AD or LeBron. If Wood allows himself to be pushed and coached, he’ll be a great get for the Lakers. That’s a big “if.”
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