If there is one thing that we have learned about the decision-making of the current Los Angeles Lakers front office, it’s that they aren’t afraid to take chances. After winning the NBA championship in 2020, they defied conventional wisdom and revamped their roster, believing that the sin of complacency outweighed the disruption that comes with an overhaul.
The 2020-2021 season didn’t go as planned, and after losing to the Phoenix Suns in the playoffs, many Lakers expressed a desire to run it back, frustrated that the injury bug had robbed them of a chance at a championship. The team, on paper, was more talented than the previous year’s title winner, and a chance to rectify the situation appeared to be in the cards, particularly as criticism mounted regarding the roster turnover.
Keeping the team together, after all, would be the safest path to travel. The Lakers were a title favorite with a strong argument that their failure was a result of external factors, this warranting another chance.
But running it back is neither bold nor ambitious, two qualities that are chiseled into the soul of the franchise.
Instead, the Lakers doubled down, once again making major changes and building on the fly. Rob Pelinka acted swiftly, jettisoning most of the incumbent team and starting over. As a result, LeBron James, who arrived in Los Angeles in the summer of 2018, is now the longest-tenured Laker and, unbelievably, only a total of three players from last season’s team remain.
It was a decisive and efficient overhaul; one that showed that the Lakers believed in the process that created last season’s team even if they didn’t get the end result that they wanted. Upgrading talent was worth sacrificing the comfort of consistency.
For most, change isn’t easy. As human beings, we are predisposed to stick with the security of the known rather than venture into the uncertainty offered by the path less traveled. Yet the Lakers, as applauded as they should be for their willingness to take chances, have also taken steps to quiet those intrinsic fears. The new roster features a combination of the thrill of new talent while peppering it with reassuring faces of seasons past.
The summer of change and steps forward was, simultaneously, one of homecomings.
The Lakers painfully cut ties with several fan favorites, but returning former Lakers like Rajon Rondo, Dwight Howard, Trevor Ariza, Wayne Ellington and Kent Bazemore provide the soothing balm of the familiar. Whether it’s been less than a year since they have worn the Purple and Gold or more than a decade, their experience with the franchise will help ease the transition of the true new arrivals.
What’s more, for fans, the once and future Lakers provide a link to the past for a franchise as rich in history as it is in revenue.
Meanwhile, Russell Westbrook, the third star the Lakers have spent years searching for, brings the headline-generating sizzle that is a Los Angeles signature. He can excite crowds with his fast-break style and jaw-dropping ferocity while providing James some relief from the burden of playmaking.
However, despite 13 seasons in the NBA, an MVP award and nine All-Star appearances, even Westbrook is a gamble. Questions remain about how he and James -both ball-dominant players- will coexist on the offensive end, as well as the impact that Westbrook’s poor 3-point shooting will have on the team’s spacing.
It’s also fair to question how much of a step back the Lakers will take defensively. Pesky defenders like Alex Caruso, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and even the versatile Kyle Kuzma are gone, replaced primarily with older players. Ellington, for example, can replicate Caldwell-Pope’s shooting and then some but isn’t nearly as capable of locking and trailing his man through a series of screens the way KCP can.
The Lakers’ defensive-minded head coach, Frank Vogel, will have his work cut out for him. If he can coax a top-10 defense out of this group it will have to be considered a major success. Despite a potential step back defensively, the offensive improvement, on paper, to go along with the fulfilled goal of finally landing a third star was too great of an opportunity for the Lakers front office to pass up.
What it all comes down to is that, despite the failure of last year’s team following major roster turnover, the Lakers decided that the process was sound even if the result wasn’t ideal. They believe that the opportunity to improve shouldn’t be declined in the name of consistency, even if it means that chemistry will have to be developed at a rapid pace.
If fortune truly favors the bold then the Lakers could be embarking upon a season to remember.
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