The Los Angeles Lakers made one of their biggest offseason acquisitions in franchise history last Sunday. The purple and gold were able to sign LeBron James to a four-year, $154 million league maximum contract.
For the third time in eight years James will be taking his talents to a new city. Although it is likely that he will end his career as a Laker, many are left wondering: can LeBron become the first player to ever lead three different organizations to an NBA title?
After missing out on the Paul George sweepstakes, Magic Johnson focused his attention elsewhere. Not only was he able to land the greatest player in the world, but he also signed former-LeBron pests; Rajon Rondo and Lance Stephenson to one-year deals. Both players have been known to play James physical in the playoffs and their track records provide Los Angeles with a toughness they have lacked since the early 2000’s. Physicality is something that the Lakers desperately need if they are going to compete with the league juggernaut, Golden State.
With Kawhi Leonard’s future hanging in the balance of a possible summer trade, Magic must be willing to give up Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram and a first-round pick if they are going to have any shot at signing the 2014 NBA Finals MVP. Leonard has expressed his desire to play in Los Angeles, specifically with the Lakers, but the only way the Spurs pull the trigger is if they get a valuable asset in return.
Lonzo Ball has been also been a part of trade discussions, but with his recent shoulder injury it will be difficult for the Spurs to take a chance on him. There is also the Big Baller Brand effect and his dad Lavar continuing to stay in the media on a weekly basis. These two question marks are definitely something that Spurs head coach Greg Popovich does not want to deal with in the final years of his career.
If Leonard does not end up in Los Angeles in 2018, then expect the Claw to depart for his hometown once he becomes a free agent July 1, 2019.
With that being said, the Lakers’ chances of winning the championship in 2018-19 are slim. LeBron will be adjusting to a new city, coach and system, while at the same time trying to mentor and lead a very young group in the process. This isn’t to say that the Staples Center will not be hosting any Western Conference Championship games next May, but with the Warriors adding DeMarcus Cousins last Monday to an already deep roster, the two-time defending champs have all but locked up their fifth straight finals berth.
The Western Conference is the deepest it has ever been in NBA history. The 2017-18 top-seeded Houston Rockets have their entire roster returning this fall and with the King joining the Lakers, the West has every active NBA MVP in the conference. Seeds 3-8 were separated by just two games last April, and the Denver Nuggets missed the playoffs by a game. Getting out of the West will all but guarantee you a ring this season, especially with number 23 departing from the East altogether.
If the Lakers can land Leonard before the start of the 2018-19 season then they will significantly increase their championship odds. Kawhi is the best two-way player in the league today and is currently a top-5 star across the country. It will take him some time to adjust to the NBA pace after missing the greater portion of last year due to injury, but expect the Lakers to be in full form by Christmas Day.
Not only is Leonard available in 2019, but Klay Thompson is as well. Thompson has been getting overshadowed by the other Warrior stars and could possibly decide to sign with the Lakers for more attention. He is arguably the best shooter in the NBA today, and adding him to the Lake Show would make them the clear favorite.
Coaching is another key component to a successful championship run and Los Angeles might have found their man. Lakers head coach Luke Walton has had previous success coaching all-star talent in the past. In 2015-16 he served as interim head coach for the Warriors after Steve Kerr missed time after back surgery. He guided Golden State to the best start to a season in NBA history (19-0) and finished undefeated, going 24-0. If Walton can have anywhere near this type of success with his revamped 2018 roster then Los Angeles will be a tough out in the postseason in the LeBron-era.
This year or next, the Showtime Lakers are back and LeBron and Co. will be returning the Larry O’Brien Trophy back to the city of Los Angeles within the next four years.