The Los Angeles Lakers head into the 2023-24 season as one of the top contending teams in the NBA. As far as the Western Conference is concerned, only the Denver Nuggets and Phoenix Suns can say that they have as good of a chance of winning the NBA Championship as the purple and gold.
This is the most exciting team since the 2020-21 team that was trying to defend its throne as champions. Lakers fans have not been given a true contender since then and this roster might be the best of the entire LeBron James era.
On paper the Lakers are great. But as we are reminded every single year, basketball is played on the hardwood, not a sheet of paper. Things look great now but there are some roadblocks that LA must avoid that would derail the season.
3 nightmare scenarios that could ruin the Lakers’ season:
1. LeBron James and/or Anthony Davis getting hurt
This is the case for any single team in the league. Every contending team would instantly be worse if one of their two best players got hurt. That goes without saying.
However, in the Lakers’ case, there is more of a reason for this to be a concern. LeBron James is entering his 21st season in the league while Anthony Davis is one of the most injury-prone superstars we have. Injuries are more of a concern for LA than they are for a team like the Nuggets or the Celtics.
AD’s injury in 2021 is the main reason why the Lakers fell short in the NBA Playoffs. If AD had been 100% healthy then there is a great chance that the Lakers would have not only won the West but perhaps the title as well.
2. Off-the-court distractions take over
What made the Russell Westbrook era so frustrating wasn’t the fact that he was a terrible fit next to LeBron and AD (although that certainly made it worse). It was the fact that the Lakers were so toxic that it bled out onto the court.
The team was already not set up to optimize the talent on the roster. Add in a superstar who doesn’t fit off the court, who the team very obviously doesn’t want, and it was a disaster. That is why the team got better simply by subtracting Westbrook.
While things are dandy right now, there is a path where the off-the-court distractions could leak back into the Lakers’ season. Two players specifically — Christian Wood and D’Angelo Russell — could have a negative off-the-court presence if things do not go well.
Wood has shown character issues in the past and while he has seemed to move on from them, there is no guarantee that they won’t resurface. Meanwhile, the Lakers were reportedly so worried about “losing” Russell in the NBA Playoffs last year if they benched him in place of Dennis Schroder. That is not a great sign.
3. Front office gets pressured into making a bad trade
This is also similar to the Westbrook situation. There is a world in which the Lakers do not get off to the kind of start that the team was hoping for. If that happens, the front office may start to get pressured by the star player on the team to add another star.
We have seen this happen before not just with the Lakers but with every team that LeBron is on. If this team is not living up to expectations in February then LeBron could leverage his way into getting another star teammate.
Russell and Rui Hachimura can be combined with Jalen Hood-Schifino for just about any star salary in the sport. In the worst possible scenario, LeBron would once again try and pressure the Lake Show to add his good friend Kyrie Irving via trade. A package of Russell, Hachimura and JHS alone would probably be enough without any picks, assuming the Kyrie situation goes sour (as it tends to do).
There is a world in which the front office would talk itself into this and while it would grab headlines at first, it would ultimately blow up in the team’s face.