When your franchise is named the Los Angeles Lakers and when you are thinking about Lakers offseason needs with the playoffs still going on, it means they failed in their objective. And they did, it’s over, the Lakers will not repeat as NBA Champions.
They were bested by the Phoenix Suns in six games. For the first time in his career, LeBron James is out in the first round. Looking at these past sentences one might think it was a first-class upset. A surprising result where David defeated Goliath.
Lakers offseason needs 2021
Putting things into context and considering everything that has happened this season, an early exit should not be surprising anyone. It happened because of three factors; the nature of things, unexpected injuries and the problematic roster construction.
The autopsy of the season has to start with the bubble in Orlando. The last game they played before the season suspension was on March 10th. The next came on June 30th in Orlando. So they had more than four months of rest before the season restarted. They would only lose five games all the way.
Now before the last Finals game and the first regular-season game, they only had a bit over two months of rest. They found themselves in a very specific situation. Now with their bags packed for Cancun already, it’s easy to forget how dominant they were at the start of the season.
The Lakers were 22-8 after 30 games with James being a leading MVP candidate.
The Lakers offseason moves looked brilliant and it all seemed great. LeBron played 36 minutes per game in the first 30 games while he should have probably played about 30. Anthony Davis got a bit more rest on back to backs but he mostly played his standard minutes as well. That approach came back to bite them later on.
At the start of February, Davis was out for about two months due to various injuries. The reason he was so dominant in the bubble was that he was completely healthy. It’s pretty well known that AD can’t really play the whole season fully and stay healthy. So he should have been rested way more frequently than he was this year.
James, true to himself, put the team on his back after AD went down. But in a game against the Hawks on March 20th he hurt his ankle, causing him to miss 19 games. With two of their most important players missing the losses started to pile up. In the end, they finished the season with a 42-30 record which put them at 7th in the West.
The stars returned but not in the greatest of rhythms. In the end, they booked a spot in the playoffs over Golden State. They faced the Suns and according to everybody were heavy favourites. If they were healthy they would have beaten Phoenix but Anthony Davis went down and the series went south.
Three main issues
The Lakers offseason moves received universal acclaim. So it was somewhat surprising how the Lakers went down in the final two games despite having James.
LeBron was not 100% but he was still LeBron. He averaged 23 points, 7 rebounds and 8 assists in the series but it was still not enough.
His supporting cast was pretty good, or was it?
It really wasn’t as they simply played way below expectations.
LeBron spoiled us by making mediocre rosters great by simply being part of them. But this was not 2015 LeBron and he is not 31 anymore but 36. In all fairness, the Suns defended him pretty well as well. Their main three flaws were very visible in the series against the Suns: a lack of a 3rd option, a lack of shooters and a solution at center.
Dennis Schroder showed he can’t be a 3rd option let alone a 2nd.
The absence of Davis could have been overcome if the team could hit threes.
They shot 29% for the series. Only James and Gasol shot it decently.
With limited shooting, the Suns simply put a roadblock in the front of the paint, limiting his driving. They forced the Lakers to beat them with the three and they couldn’t.
The center position was a problem throughout the season. The Lakers offseason moves addressed the issue but not in the right way. Marc Gasol and Montrezl Harrell arrived as did Andre Drummond after the trade deadline.
All three were different types of players suitable to be used in different schemes and matchups. In the end, all three were misses. Gasol is not mobile enough to be a great defender anymore. Harrell can’t guard 5s, he can’t protect the rim and he is too dependent on pick and roll points which LA doesn’t run often. Drummond is the same as Harrell only worse.
A new redesign
Realistically none of this would have shown if Davis did not get hurt.
If he stayed healthy the Lakers could have easily played him at the 5 which is what won it for them last year.
Without him, their whole scheme crumbled because they were too dependent on his offensive and defensive talents.
General Manager Rob Pelinka was praised at the beginning of the season because of the roster he created. It’s hard to blame Pelinka for what happened but all arrivals failed in the most important stretches of the season.
Pelinka will have to tweak the roster where the main focus will be on shooters and a 3rd option which ideally should be a point guard. The Lakers offseason needs are glaring.