In this round-one series against the Memphis Grizzlies, Lakers Nation was blessed with some fantastic performances. Game 1 gave us the Hachimura and Reaves duo the league was not ready for. Game 2 happened. Game 3 gave us an AD masterclass tallying 31 points to go along with 17 rebounds and 5 stocks (steals and blocks). Game 4 gifted us with a LeBron James stat line, shockingly enough, we have yet to see before (22 points, 20 rebounds, and 7 assists) which led to the ultra-critical overtime win. Game 5 happened. And in Game 6 at home, we saw quite arguably the best performance we’ve seen from the Los Angeles Lakers in years.
While these wins have been impressive (as a seven-seed beating a two-seed) and vindicating (with said two-seed being arguably the most disliked team in the league), we’ve seen a wide array of what this Lakers team can be on any given night. Each win has come in a different flavor.
As mentioned before, the Game 1 win came as a result of the trade piece we received for Kendrick Nunn off the bench, and an undrafted 2nd-year player playing fantastic basketball. In Game 3 we saw LA’s star big man do star big man things.
In Game 4 we saw the NBA’s all-time leading scorer and greatest player of all time close a big overtime game. But even in the win, LA wouldn’t have even sniffed overtime if it weren’t for three absolutely massive threes in the fourth by D’Angelo Russell and 23 points put in from the leading scorer for the night Austin Reaves. In the closing game, D’Lo clearly lead the way with 31 points, but because of the depth, the Lakers were able to sit LeBron and AD with over nine minutes in the fourth.
Each night to this point has been different yet the same, and if you look closely at how different each win has been, you might just find what the Lakers’ greatest strength is over the rest of the teams competing in the playoffs. Depth and defense.
Realistically the Lakers have 6 players who can give you 20+ points on any given night to go along with one of the most defensively versatile rosters to boot. Find me another team like that outside of Boston. You have to realize as well that the Lakers have 3 key players who have yet to officially show up to the playoff party for their standards.
Malik Beasley, Troy Brown Jr, and D’Angelo Russell (outside of his second-half spurt in game four) have been massively underwhelming, shooting far under their averages. The entire team for that matter has shot the three-ball far below their capabilities. If those guys start hitting threes at a halfway serviceable rate, I’m not quite sure what you do to stop the Lakers’ offense.
The offense isn’t the only faction of the team being propelled by depth either. Dating back to before the playoffs, the Lakers have been the #1 defensive team in the NBA since the trade deadline, and it’s been made apparent that having multiple young, versatile, athletic defenders to throw at whoever is hurting you on the opposite team is a blessing.
Between Anthony Davis alongside LeBron and Hachimura holding down the paint, and Vanderbilt, Reaves, and Schröder making life tough on the perimeter, it seems like for every mistake someone will be there to fix it.
With all the benefits of the depth we’ve been so graciously afforded thanks to Pelinka, the question needs to be asked at this point: why oh why do we still have a fairly large portion of Lakers fans clamoring for Kyrie Irving this offseason?
The Lakers don’t need Kyrie Irving at all.
Kyrie actually showed up to Game 6 and sat courtside across the Lakers bench oddly enough, and the reasons why a Kyrie Irving saga in Los Angeles would be a nightmare can be boiled down to one word. History. Whether it’s LA’s recent history or his, both point to what an insane mistake this could be. Insanity couldn’t be a better word choice either. To that point, Einstein once said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” It would be insanity in both respects to sign Kyrie Irving this summer.
For the Lakers’ history, you really don’t have to look that far back to learn the lesson. Just a mere three years ago we can point to not just a successful blueprint, but a championship blueprint in 2020. Believe it or not, it didn’t involve a three-superstar model (which frankly hasn’t worked since the Warriors dynasty with Steph, KD, and Klay).
The Lakers surrounded LeBron and AD with depth of shooters and role players who knew exactly what their job was, and that resulted in a ring. The team then decided two short years after to not just restructure but to absolutely flip the script by abandoning what had worked previously and signing a third star in Russell Westbrook, who turned out to be the furthest thing from a third star.
That move not only restricted the team and clearly defined a ceiling because of the subpar performance of a one-time MVP, but absolutely handicapped them with respect to team salary. Westbrook’s $43m contract forced the team into signing minimum players in free agency most of whom respectfully, were past their prime.
Signing Kyrie would have a similar effect, resulting in us losing some of our most important pieces possibly such as Reaves, D’Angelo Russell, Vanderbilt, and others. I refuse to lose out on another Caruso-type glue-guy over poor money management.
The second history lesson we need to dive into is Kyrie’s own. Since leaving LeBron and the Cleveland Cavaliers, he’s left behind nothing but disappointment for the franchises bold enough to take the risk.
Boston we saw him hardly play due to injuries, yet there were rumors constantly swirling about him not being the best teammate. In Brooklyn, we saw him with his greatest opportunity to reach the promised land of the finals once paired with Kevin Durant and James Harden, only to see the same injuries and unseen turmoil rear their ugly heads.
In the most recent chapter leading him to the Dallas Mavericks through the way of trade, it was more of the same. Team morale seemed to instantly diminish specifically regarding Dallas star Luka Donćic, and we saw a before-trade 4th seed slip and fall all the way out of even the play-in tournament to 11th.
Is his offensive bag insane and tantalizing? Yes. There have been stretches even in this series where I wouldn’t have minded having Kyrie out there to save us from our slumps. Are his defensive inefficiencies, however, enough to derail an otherwise sound defensive team? I don’t believe so. The jury is not still out.
We don’t need any more data or evidence to see what’s clearly in front of us. Kyrie is not the answer for a team with this current makeup. If we choose not to learn from the lessons of our past, however, we may just be doomed to repeat them.