In-Season Tournament proves Lakers are already good enough to win NBA Title

Dec 9, 2023; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) holds the MVP
Dec 9, 2023; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) holds the MVP / Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

After watching the Lakers play to start the season, they should pretend like every game is a part of In-Season Tournament. They went undefeated in tournament games on their way to the championship, and in every other regular season game with no tournament implications, they have been relatively inconsistent posting a 7-9 record in those games.

Maybe it was the added money incentive, or possibly their soft schedule in pool play, and even LeBron wanting to add another accolade to his legacy, but it was clear they played better in these tournament games. It could also simply be that this group of Lakers play better in big games with something to play for.

Since their tournament championship was the first of its kind, it remains to be seen how much stock should go into that achievement, but it is a positive step for a Lakers group still trying to work some new faces into the rotation. It also definitely shows their ability to thrive in high-stakes games, setting a positive tone for a potential playoff run.

The best opponent they beat on the road to the tournament crown was the Phoenix Suns, who they beat twice. The Suns figure to be in the championship mix this season, but they were playing without Bradley Beal and Devin Booker for one of those games.

Their best game as a team during their tournament run had to be the domination of the New Orleans Pelicans, a squad that gave them fits last season. LeBron put on a vintage performance putting up 30 points in less than three quarters, and Anthony Davis played like he had something to prove against his former team. The game was hardly even competitive in the second half and showed a glimpse of how good this team can be against a possible Western Conference playoff team.

They also made a big step in forming their defensive identity in the final game of the tournament by holding the Indiana Pacers offense in check. The Pacers did score 109 points, but they have been the league's highest-scoring offense averaging 128.9 points per game.

They have won every game since adding defensive ace Jared Vanderbilt back into the mix, and with Cam Reddish and him on the wing, they have already shown signs of becoming an elite defensive-minded team. They won their most recent title in 2020 by being one of the strongest defenses in the league and they should work towards getting back to that recipe if they want similar success.

Lakers' In-Season Tournament success proves they are legitimate title contenders

This tournament win serves as an example that this group can play with their backs against the wall in a win-or-go-home scenario, a critical asset in the playoffs. The main players on this roster also made a deep postseason run last year as the 7th seed in the conference with barely any time playing together.

At this point, it seems like the smart play to keep this group of players together instead of making a major trade to shake up this roster. In recent years the Lakers have been major movers at the trade deadline and there have already been ongoing trade rumors this season, particularly the speculation about acquiring a third star like Zach LaVine. Adding a third all-star level talent might seem enticing, but maintaining the current roster and building chemistry among the players should be the priority.

If the Lakers could deal players that haven't had a chance to make an impact like Gabe Vincent, then that move might make sense, but trading any of the core rotation would be a step in the wrong direction. Their lack of playing time together has already led to issues in consistency this season.

Part of the reason why the Lakers were swept out of the playoffs last season was because they ran against the Nuggets whose core group of starters have been playing together for the past few seasons. The Lakers have yet to play in a game this season with their full roster, so all the games they can get playing together will only help them down the road.

The Lakers have had a ton of injuries to start this season, but recently they have gotten some players back healthy, and they have won seven of their last 10 games. This hot streak coupled with their strong tournament performance should factor in their decision to make roster moves mid-season.

The In-Season Tournament showed the Lakers' ability to rise to the occasion in critical games. Instead of making trades to improve the team, they should preserve the current roster, and get better by fostering team chemistry. While the allure of adding another star player is always tempting in star-studded Los Angeles, the true path to championship contention lies in the cohesion and synergy of the current Lakers squad.