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Los Angeles Lakers star forward LeBron James is expected to turn 37 on Thursday. It’s not like the quadruple NBA champion and quadruple NBA MVP looks like it.
James continues to play at a high level for an otherwise mediocre Lakers team. Unfortunately, any hope of winning this fifth championship can now be pretty much thrown out the window.
Los Angeles lost to the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday night, dropping their campaign record to 17-19. He is currently the eighth seed in the Western Conference and is expected to participate in the tournament play as we saw last season.
The backdrop here is another injury from Los Angeles Lakers star forward Anthony Davis and a lack of progress from the big man. Meanwhile, Russell Westbrook was simply unsuccessful after being acquired from the Washington Wizards in a successful trade in the summer.
For all intents and purposes, the Lakers’ Championship window is closed. It’s more than depressing for an all-time greats at LeBron James.
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Can the Los Angeles Lakers compete in the Western Conference?
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Let’s say Los Angeles has the chance to win a place in the tournament and come out on top. His reward would be a better NBA Golden State Warriors team with Klay Thompson back in the mix and Stephen Curry playing at MVP level. This isn’t the same Dubs team that Los Angeles beat in the play-in-touring tournament last season.
If it wasn’t Golden State, then the Lakers would likely be forced to play defending Western Conference champion the Phoenix Suns. After knocking out Los Angeles in the first round of the NBA Playoffs a season ago, the Suns have come by leaps and bounds. There’s absolutely no reason to believe Los Angeles will be able to hang on to the star trio of Devin Booker, Chris Paul and an improved Deandre Ayton. It just won’t happen.
This is the crux of the matter for LeBron James and the Lakers. They don’t have the complete talent to compete with the greats of the Western Conference. This includes a meteoric Utah Jazz team led by MVP nominee Donovan Mitchell and reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert.
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Can the Los Angeles Lakers save the season with a successful trade?
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
It stands to reason that the Lakers would be linked with high profile players ahead of the NBA trade deadline in February. Most recently, general manager Rob Pelinka and Co. has been linked with enigmatic Philadelphia 76ers star point guard Ben Simmons.
Other than the questionable fit (spacing and shooting outdoors), Los Angeles just doesn’t have the makings of a job of this ilk to be successful. Westbrook’s contract is an absolute albratros and should be seen as a clear negative on the brand.
Unless the former NBA MVP guarantees an interested team that he will turn down the said option, it’s hard to imagine him leading a deal to improve the Lakers’ roster. It is that simple.
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Los Angeles Lakers trade assets
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Los Angeles’ trades for Westbrook and Davis have the squad extremely limited in what they can offer in terms of draft pick compensation.
- 2022: First-round pick in New Orleans (protected for 11-3) or Memphis (protected for 1-10)
- 2023: first-round pick swap with New Orleans
- 2024: First-round pick in New Orleans (unprotected)
This means that the first Los Angeles can offer a first round pick under NBA rules in 2026. After that? 2028. It’s too far away for these choices to act as major swings when it comes to a potential trade.
Then there is Anthony Davis. While no concrete rumors have been released suggesting he will be traded, it’s clear the All-Star has benefited from the hike. In fact, he struggled to maintain a high level of play while dealing with injury after a brilliant performance in the Orlando bubble to wrap up the 2019-20 season.
- Anthony Davis statistics (last two seasons): 22.5 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 3.0 APG, 50% shooting, 23% three point
- Anthony Davis statistics (2019-20): 26.1 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 3.2 APG, 50% shooting, 33% three point
Despite Davis’ regression in performance, his star power alone would likely attract interest in the trade market. The question then is whether Los Angeles can improve enough by trading Davis to compete in the West. Unless you acquire someone like Damian Lillard, that seems far-fetched.
Could LeBron James leave the Los Angeles Lakers?
This seems to be the most implausible scenario. His camp also rejected the suggestions that King James wants to withdraw. He signed with the Lakers to close a glittering career while preparing for another career in Hollywood. This type of market is unmatched.
- LeBron James Contract: $ 44.48 million in 2022-2023
As you can see, James still has a year on his contract. There is an outside blow that he sees these Lakers as non-contenders after the 2022-2023 campaign and bolts for another team. In this scenario, the New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets, and even the Golden State Warriors might make sense.
Even then, it is far too early to come to this conclusion.
What we do know is that the Lakers are not title contenders this season. They do not have the assets to do a job that would make them top-of-the-range contenders. What we’ve seen so far in the 2021-22 campaign adds another layer to that.
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