Check-In On The Reigning NBA Champions
By: Devin Zanskas
The Los Angeles Lakers tied a NBA record 17 championships in the most difficult of circumstances during the Orlando Bubble. There was the added pressure of being a championship contender at the time of the franchise legend Kobe Bryant’s passing. On the court, they entered the Bubble without Avery Bradley, a three and D guard who started 44 of his 49 games with the Lakers. The Lakers lost Bradley for the playoffs because of the Bubble’s inherent risk and his 6-year-old son having a history of respiratory illnesses, according to nba.com. Nevertheless, the Lakers were able to defy the odds by defeating the finally healthy Portland Trailblazers, the Houston Rockets at Harden’s final stand, the incredibly clutch Denver Nuggets, and the possibly more odd-defying and legacy defining Miami Heat. Leading up to last season, the general consensus was that the three definitive championship favorites were the Lakers, Clippers, and Bucks. The latter two definitely disappointed, but the each of those teams had reasonable cases for fans betting on them to win it all.
The Bucks were the best team with the best player in the regular season two years in a row. The Clippers had the reigning Finals MVP and a very recent top 3 regular season MVP candidate to round out an extraordinarily versatile roster. LeBron partnered with an All-NBA caliber player has been the most reliable title bet over the past decade. Those who didn’t accept the abundant evidence all this time may have thought that the Bucks’ historic regular season defense and continuity, and the Clippers’ elite 3-and-D tandem, outweighed the Lakers’ strengths because they’re used to seeing more shooting around LeBron. They also may not be familiar with defenders next to LeBron who can stifle both at rim in Davis, Dwight, and Javale, and on the perimeter in Caldwell-Pope and Green. What absolutely cannot be overlooked is debatably the best all-around player of all time becoming even more inept at finding his teammates in spots on the court that they’re more likely to succeed. He was even able to be the only player to average more than ten assists per game, and allow his counterpart, Davis, to rank tenth in scoring.
Unfortunately for the Lakers however, the heir to throne has experienced an injury to one of the most concerning areas on the body for basketball players. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, after missing two games due to tendonitis in his right Achilles, Anthony Davis couldn’t return to their loss to the Nuggets because he had aggravated that same Achilles injury.
To add insult to injury, Dennis Schröder also had to enter the NBA’s Healthy and Safety Protocol, which coincided with a four game Lakers losing streak. Schröder is the most dynamic guard the Lakers have had the past two years. Although LeBron is one of the best to ever do it, having an additional ball handler is a worthwhile luxury to have in today’s NBA. In addition to Schröder, the Lakers also added Wesley Matthews and Marc Gasol on minimum deals, and Montrezl Harrell for only the non-taxpayer mid-level exception. Signing players for more than bargain deals, and re-signing Kyle Kuzma at a reasonable 3-year, $40 million contract despite his high profile will allow continued success for the Lakers alongside LeBron and Davis’s enormous, but justified $76,986,392.30 average annual salary over the next three years. Even though a four-game losing streak is discouraging for any championship contender, they also experienced the same streak last season in a span when LeBron and Davis each missed two separate games during that stretch, and the rest is history.