Are the Los Angeles Lakers legitimate title contenders?

Rui Hachimura, LeBron James, and Anthony Davis (Los Angeles Lakers)
Rui Hachimura, LeBron James, and Anthony Davis (Los Angeles Lakers) / Ethan Miller/GettyImages

Following the sheer dominance they exhibited during the NBA's inaugural In-Season tournament, it appeared that the Los Angeles Lakers had officially cemented themselves as 2023-2024 championship contenders. However, the roughly three weeks that have followed that run have been rough, to say the least.

Heading into the matchup with Charlotte on Thursday night, the losses have been piling up en route to a 2-6 record in their last 8 games since the IST 'ship. Now, the previous Laker positivity which had been circulating in the media has turned to pessimism.

The Lakers' journey this season has had plenty of ups and downs

Before the season kicked off, most league insiders agreed on the notion that the Lakers were among the most feared of the NBA's elite. That preseason hype quickly subsided after the team floundered in the opening stretch of the year, and questions arose surrounding the seriousness of this squad.

The core group that was retained from the end of last season, most notably Austin Reaves, struggled to validate the front office's offseason investment in their services. The offseason acquisitions that Rob Pelinka was applauded for were not contributing as anticipated. It looked like things may be starting to spiral in Hollywood.

The team's victory in Las Vegas highlighted the team's overall potential. Not only was it a big win for the franchise in the regular season, but it should also serve as a morale building block for the team looking ahead to the postseason.

D'Angelo Russell called the tourney a playoff "cheat code", alluding to the atmosphere and environment which encapsulated the entire spectacle. For a team largely constructed of new pieces, it was most definitely a prime chance to develop some playoff-like chemistry in advance of those battles.

While the IST may indeed be a quality stepping stone for the team's future postseason endeavors, it is important to recall that last season's postseason endeavors certainly also played a part in instilling comfort for the Lakers heading into the IST. D'Lo had also spoken on this subject in recent weeks, seconding this hypothesis.

In a league where the regular season has become a bit on the bland side, elements such as this new format offer a sense of refreshment in the preliminary stages of the season. Furthermore, it is a great way for teams to build cohesion in a higher-stakes environment. Finally, it is a perfect way for front offices to dissect which gears within a roster can properly grind when faced with a heightened sense of challenge.

The team certainly looked the part of a contender throughout that tournament, but they have lost their way in the past two weeks. That has raised a lot of concerns and created a lot of trade conspiracies, but it is important to remember that even the top contenders go through their rough patches from time to time. With that being said, there is only so much patience that can be exuded in a critical year in LeBron's career.

With just a few games remaining on the slate for 2023, the Lakers will need to rediscover the unity they showed during the In-Season Tournament. The schedule is not going to get any easier in January, and there are no off nights in the NBA.

If the struggles wane on into the New Year, it will only be a matter of time before Rob Pelinka makes a change. This team has one goal in mind this season, and they will need to get things back on track to contention sooner rather than later.

dark. Next. Gave up on. 22 players the Lakers gave up on too early