Darvin Ham might've caught a stray in Reaves' evaluation of Lakers

Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Austin Reaves was asked how the team can return to contending. He was blunt and fair in his response.
Los Angeles Lakers v New Orleans Pelicans - Play-In Tournament
Los Angeles Lakers v New Orleans Pelicans - Play-In Tournament / Jonathan Bachman/GettyImages

An argument could be made that the Los Angeles Lakers have backed themselves into a corner. There are worse corners to find yourself in, but with LeBron James six months shy of turning 40 and Anthony Davis already in his 30s, the sense of urgency in Los Angeles is bordering on extreme.

As the Lakers search for ways to maximize the championship window of a duo that's already won a ring, one starter is hoping that the organization shows patience in building something sustainable.

Complementing Davis and James is a player who's just now approaching their prime: Austin Reaves. The 26-year-old has spent three seasons with the Lakers, improving each year and earning rave reviews for his play in the postseason.

Per Matt Peralta of Lakers Nation, Reaves is hopeful that whoever becomes the Lakers' next head coach allows the team to follow suit.

"There’s so many teams that are growing, you see like the OKCs, the Minnesotas and obviously the two teams that are left, young teams that have been together for a while and learned to play in a system around one another."

Reaves continued:

"I feel like that’s something you need in any sport you play, like consistency in basically a system and just growing that with what we have, obviously Bron and AD is a very special duo to have, but just growing a system around those two to basically help in whatever they need and then playing around them. But I think that we’re heading in the right direction, obviously with a coaching change coming up. I don’t know when they’re hiring a coach, so I’m right there with y’all on that news. But hopefully we get somebody that comes to work every single day the way that we do ready to go try to win a championship."

Reaves is bold to effectively call the Lakers out on trying to make a title happen one season at a time, but that doesn't change the fact that he's accurate in his evaluation.

A shining example is the Lakers' biggest rival

An example that Reaves utilizes as a standard for the Lakers to aspire to reach is that of the Boston Celtics, which drafted Jaylen Brown in 2016 and landed Jayson Tatum in 2017. After Danny Ainge struggled to get the team over the hump, Brad Stevens took a more aggressive approach starting in 2021.

Stevens traded for Al Horford in 2021 in what would be the first of a number of moves that would transform the Celtics into an NBA powerhouse.

Before Jrue Holiday and Kristaps Porzingis became marquee acquisitions in 2023, however, it was the addition of Al Horford and Derrick White that kickstarted the Celtics' evolution into a true contender. The Celtics reached the 2022 NBA Finals and are back in the championship round just two years later.

Those were massive moves across the board, which the Lakers are reportedly looking to emulate, but they were also an attempt to complement what had already been built.

That was a steady theme in the Western Conference this season. Of the four teams that advanced to the 2024 Western Conference Semifinals, the Dallas Mavericks, Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves, and Oklahoma City Thunder, all spent years finetuning their rosters around a consistent core.

No team is going to contend without a true franchise player, but even the best individual talent will ultimately falter without a strong system and supporting cast.

The Lakers must finally commit to a vision beyond the LeBron James era

James has been superhuman throughout his NBA career, but at 39 years of age, building something around him is no longer a viable option. He can still be a crucial part of the process, but the Lakers need to look beyond the four-time MVP's window if they hope to contend sustainably.

Reaves still understands how great of a tandem Davis and James can be, but he's dead on the money in his evaluation of the need to build over time.

Every season is championship or bust in Los Angeles, but the rules have changed to prevent superteams from flourishing. They may still be built, but surrounding three stars with quality role players will be harder than ever.

It's no coincidence that the NBA Playoffs were thus dominated by teams that have spent time building great and balanced rosters, while the star-heavy groups went out in the first round.

Moving forward, the Lakers must hire a head coach who has a long-term vision and a consistent commitment to building a winning culture. That also means that Los Angeles must not give up on the coach prematurely—and the fact that it's about to hire an eighth coach in 13 years suggests it's a pattern that needs to be broken.

This isn't to say that one of the previous head coaches of the post-Jackson era was the answer, but the Lakers need to remain patient if this is going to work.

Going all-in on a short-term window at the expense of draft picks that will be traded and young players whose development will be stunted would only set the organization back.