The Los Angeles Lakers finished up a season in which they won their most games in five years and posted their best defense during that time frame as well, which has led to serious optimism surrounding the franchise.
The one thing the team didn’t do to put a cherry on top of those two big achievements? Make the playoffs, which the Lakers now haven’t done in five consecutive seasons.
It will be at least a sixth year by the time they make their next playoff appearance, but the promise the team’s current young roster showed in playing such competitive basketball for much of the season does offer hope.
All that optimism will also lead to higher expectations, as one Lakers employee told Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report:
“For the first time heading into next year, I think we have real expectations for us to be right there in the playoff hunt with or without max guys,” said a person on the Lakers staff, who requested their name be kept off the record.
That staffer is right that free agents or not, the Lakers aren’t going to be able to sneak up on teams or get overlooked as consistently as they were this season. Another year of growth for young core players like Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart and Brandon Ingram means they’ll all likely be better, but it also means all that hype will leave L.A. with a target on its back.
If the Lakers sign a free agent like Paul George or LeBron James, that pressure might just double or even triple. That would be a good problem for the Lakers to have, but if they don’t sign those guys, playoff expectations could potentially come back to bite the team if they take a step back without capable veterans like Brook Lopez or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
It’s understandable for the Lakers to be optimistic about next season internally, but it might be best for fans to pump the breaks on their expectations until the team signs a major name or it at least becomes more clear what L.A.’s roster makeup will be.