Wow. What a season. As I attempt to shake off the melancholy cloud following me after the 4-0 sweep on behalf of the Denver Nuggets, things are starting to come into the picture. Whether it be the games just played, the games to be played next season, or the personnel that will be making up the roster for said games, there is not only much to talk about but to think about as well.
The Nuggets dismantled the best team in the NBA post-deadline with ease as they oblierated the Lakers with a barrage of size, shotmaking, and enough defense to get them by. While my saying “with ease” may be misleading seeing as how the Lakers had opportunities to win every game they played in this series due to the aforementioned size and shotmaking in the most clutch moments, it was clearly their time now. It’s become brutally evident now that looking back on the result of the series, Denver was just better.
One of the other main contributors to the Nuggets’ success over the regular season and into the playoffs was their team’s continuity. This is a Denver Nuggets roster that has housed the same core of players for almost three years now. Comparatively speaking, that’s a stark contrast to the Lakers squad they faced where they had only been together for 3 months rather than years.
Rob Pelinka and Darvin Ham kicked off the Lakers 2022-23 season exit interviews yesterday morning and discussed just that. Continuity, among other large things, are all topics to look into heading into the 2023-24 season.
LeBron James talks about his future
Outside of the Nuggets making their first-ever NBA Finals appearance, the story of the night league-wide was spurred by some comments LeBron James gave after his astonishing 40-point, 10-rebound, nine-assist game (in year 20 mind you). When asked by a reporter about his thoughts going into next season, James had this to say:
"“We’ll see. We’ll see what happens going forward. I don’t know, I don’t know. I got a lot to think about to be honest. – Just for me personally going forward with the game of basketball…I got a lot to think about.”"
A cryptic message from the King of cryptic messages. The thought of a LeBron-less Lakers, let alone a LeBron-less NBA, was nearly enough to put me over the edge after being swept Monday night. When asked about James’ post-game comments, Rob Pelinka had this to say on Tuesday morning:
"“Coach and I will speak to LeBron in the coming days. We all know he speaks for himself. And we look forward to those conversations when the time is right. I will say this: LeBron has given as much to the game of basketball as anyone who’s ever played. When you do that, you earn a right to decide whether you’re going to give more. Sometimes we put athletes, entertains on a pedestal, but they’re humans. They have inflection points in their careers. Our job as a Lakers organization is to support any player on our team if they reach a career inflection point. LeBron is surrounded by incredible people. His family first, Savannah, his kids. He’s got a great management team led by Rich and Maverick. I’m sure he’ll have conversations with them in the coming days. We’ll be in contact with him, his team, and really providing nothing but support for him. Obviously, our hope would be that his career continues, but we just want to give him the time to have that inflection point and support him along the way in everything he does.”"
My initial thoughts point to exactly that. He is human. He is human enough to feel frustrated with how the season ended, he’s human enough to feel doubt, and he’s also human enough to step back and recognize that the body of work he’s accumulated is set in stone if he were to walk away from the game at this point in time.
The Lakers’ approach seems very cool, calm, and collected. He just played one of the best playoff games in a good while, while 38, with a bad foot, and in the Western Conference Finals playing 48 minutes. For these reasons, I do believe we will see him sporting the purple-and-gold next season, but that’s not to say this is a delicate situation. It will be one to watch this entire offseason.
The Lakers’ roster continuity
Now to the aforementioned continuity. When the Lakers won the championship in 2020 they did a great job of keeping the roster together. The team had returning players like Kyle Kuzma, KCP, Alex Caruso, and Markief Morris to keep the core alongside LeBron and AD, but they also made incremental changes like signing Marc Gasol, Montrezl Harrell, and Dennis Schröder. That 21-22 team was arguably the best team in the NBA that season and if it weren’t for injuries to LeBron and AD, many think the team would’ve made a deep run.
Fast forward to the following off-season, and it’s as if the Lakers forgot the definition of the word continuity. The team made the decision to disperse their depth of key role players in a trade for Russell Westbrook, which in hindsight might be one of the worst trades in sports history. With the trade brought a bevy of new veteran minimum players who were not fit for the task and who frankly didn’t mesh together in the slightest.
Los Angeles has been begging for some sort of consistency in the roster for a few seasons now and when asked about the concept of continuity, Rob Pelinka had this to say:
"“We’re incredibly proud of this group, getting to the Western Conference Finals. After the trade deadline, we had one of the top records in the league. I think keeping that continuity is going to be very important. We ultimately got knocked out by a team that has great continuity…..That’s a high priority for us. We feel like we have a group of special players in the locker room. They enjoy playing with each other, Darvin enjoys coaching them. We know there’s more growth and improvement in that group, especially if we get a training camp together. So, I would say it’s a high priority to keep our core players together.”"
The Lakers’ standout role players
And Laker Nation collectively let out a massive sigh of relief. Is it fun to hunt for superstars in the summer? Absolutely. But the joy of winning big games in June doesn’t come about without having roster consistency and depth of high-value role players such as Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura. When it comes to both Rui and Austin, here’s what they had to say about their place with the team:
Both will certainly get paid this offseason and those are both tremendous signs pointing toward LeBron and AD having two of their dudes back. We’ve seen what happens when you forfeit depth for fun, and it was not very much fun at all. Look for the Lakers to have a similar off-season to the summer of 2020 where they retain the main core that works while adding supplemental pieces to fit throughout.
Looking ahead to the 2023-24 season
The exit interviews gave us great insight into the type of team the organization is going to try and bring to opening night next season. There are a few very clear boxes that need to be checked this offseason. First box, pray that LeBron doesn’t retire and force the team into a rebuilding phase. It would be an absolute shame not to see the roster’s full potential.
The second box is securing Reaves and Hachimura, which by all accounts seems to be the Laker’s main priority heading into the summer. The third box as mentioned is to maximize this current roster rather than dismantling it. Go out and get one or two solid 6’7+ wings and a solid big man who can rebound and defend. Pair the #17 and #47 picks in the draft with the tremendous Lakers scouting department of the Buss brothers and we just might have something really special to look forward to next season.
On a brief personal note, this was my first season writing about and covering the Los Angeles Lakers and it’s been nothing short of spectacular. Thank you to everyone who took the time to give my work a look, and I look forward to providing more free agency and draft content for you throughout the summer. As always, Go Lakers.