It’s been two seasons since the LeBron James and Anthony Davis superstar duo led the Los Angeles Lakers to a 2020 NBA Championship. Given how the team has performed since then, it feels much longer, with the Lakers limping into the playoffs in 2021 and missing them altogether in 2022.
In 2021, Los Angeles was eliminated by Chris Paul’s Phoenix Suns in six games during opening round play in the 2021 postseason. Last year, despite the addition of Russell Westbrook, the Lakers finished a disastrous 33-49 and missed out on the playoffs, leading to the firing of head coach Frank Vogel.
Over the past two seasons, much of the Lakers’ struggles can be attributed to Anthony Davis’ absence. The future Hall of Famer was limited to just 40 games last season with knee and ankle injuries, and he played just 36 of 72 regular season games the season before because of calf and heel injuries. The last time he played over 70 games in a season was 2017-18 for the New Orleans Pelicans, leading some to believe that trading him might be best for the team long haul.
Can the Lakers Return to Contention?
The Lakers entered both the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons as favorites to win the NBA Championship, but that’s not the case for 2022-23.
Los Angeles is currently +1800, long odds for a team that prides itself on winning championships. That said, that number has moved significantly. Laker’s bettors have pounded that number down from as high as +2500 in mid-August, clearly showing betting interest and why we’re currently seeing a big push by officials for California Sports betting to go live in the state.
Last season, Russell Westbrook received much blame for the Lakers’ struggles, and he remains with the team this season after exercising his 2022-23 player option. In an ideal world, the Lakers would find a taker for the final year of Westbrook’s contract opening up cap room for General Manager Rob Pelinka, allowing him to upgrade the depth around LeBron James and Davis.
But at the end of the day, the Lakers’ best hope of a turnaround is a healthy duo of James and Davis. When they’re both on the court, there aren’t many (if any) better superstar tandems in today’s NBA.
Injuries have unfortunately limited Davis over the last four seasons, but we all know how much of a game-changer he is when healthy. Through seasons with the Purple and Gold (138 total games), Davis has averaged 24.1 points and 9.1 points per game.
When James doesn’t have his All-Star sidekick on the court, it makes it much easier for opponents to defend the vaunted Lakers offense.
James is still a top-five player, but age (38 in December) and a handful of injuries have predictably led to a slight decrease in production. This isn’t the old LeBron where he could essentially single-handedly carry a very flawed team (see the 2006-07 or 2017-18 Cleveland Cavaliers) to the NBA Finals.
The Lakers’ ceiling is a play-in berth without Davis or James on the court. The chances of another deep playoff run grow tremendously when they play together.
Now Isn’t The Time To Trade Davis
If things continued to go south in 2021-22, the Lakers might have no choice but to consider trading Davis and other core players.
James just signed a two-year contract with LA, a strong indicator that he believes in the long-term direction of this franchise. But if they didn’t rebound in 2021-22, all options should be on the table.
Davis will be 30 next March. And if he can’t stay healthy, who knows how many productive years he’ll have left? His trade value only decreases as he gets up in age, which is why Los Angeles may have to consider a blockbuster deal should the team fall short of expectations again.
But this simply isn’t the time to deal away the perennial All-Star. James just committed to the Lakers for an additional two years, and Davis is still a world-class playmaker when he’s on the court. For now, the focus should be for LA to build around James and Davis and eye another world championship.