Lakers

The Lakers Are Finally Contenders Again

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Mason Ihrke and Connor Moreno joint contributed to this article.

Not many franchises can endure the year-and-a-half stretch that the Los Angeles Lakers did from the start of the 2021-22 season until last season’s trade deadline. The highs were bleak and the lows were very low.

However, after an improbable run to the Western Conference Finals, and an offseason that saw that same squad bolster its depth, the Lakers are now comfortably back in contention for the first time in nearly three seasons.

With that said, let’s preview Los Angeles’ 2023-24 season.

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STRENGTHS COMPARED TO LAST SEASON

There are many advantages this Lakers team has over last season. One of them being that this team feels more unified.

There were so many negative storylines going into last season season.

LA fired 2020 championship head coach Frank Vogel after the 21-22 season and hired rookie head coach Darvin Ham. The Russell Westbrook fit brought the franchise an abundance of frustration. The roster looked shallow and was made fun of because Patrick Beverley had the highest career three-point percentage on the team. And Lakers General Manager Rob Pelinka was ridiculed for poor management of the franchise.

A lot changed in one season, though.

Ham earned the trust of the locker room. Los Angeles traded Westbrook for more depth and are arguably the deepest team in the NBA. Pelinka saved his reputation after his trade deadline and offseason acquisitions. The Purple and Gold now enter this season with less drama and more potential that the Laker Faithful can feel.

LAKERS ARE AS DEEP AS DEEP GETS

The most glaring asset for the Lakers this year is their depth. Their post-trade deadline core meshed quickly — going 17-9 en route to the playoffs with LeBron James and D’Angelo Russell missing significant time in that span.

A strengthened depth mixed with a full training camp is sure to make this season exciting to watch.

Los Angeles turned Troy Brown Jr. into Taurean Prince, Dennis Schröder into Gabe Vincent and Mo Bamba and Wenyen Gabriel into Jaxson Hayes and Christian Wood.

The NBA season is long and health is not promised. James and Anthony Davis still have their injury concerns, but the Lakers have enough depth to withstand the loss of one of their superstars. A quality that the team hasn’t had since winning a championship.

A MODERN LAKERS TEAM? WHO WOULD’VE THOUGHT?

Another promising storyline this season is that the Lakers are finally fielding a modern-era team with far better three-point shooting ability.

Last season, LA attempted the second-most three-pointers in franchise history, but ranked 25th in the league in three-point percentage. This poor shooting was a main reason they were six games under .500 three months into last season.

One main theme evident in their offseason ventures was the desire to bolster their shooting ability. They now have five players on the roster that shoot higher than the league average 35% from deep for their career (Austin Reaves, Wood, Russell, Prince and Max Christie). Rui Hachimura and Vincent were not included in that list, but both shot over 35% in the playoffs.

This newfound shooting ability makes the Lakers even more difficult to matchup against.

EXPECTATIONS ARE RISING

Because of their historic resume, the Lakers have high expectations entering every season. Even with lower expectations last season, they started the season 2-10 and finished as the No. 7 seed that made it to the Western Conference Finals.

The front office showed that they were committed to winning and continuity and re-signed Davis, Hachimura, Russell, Reaves and Jarred Vanderbilt to multi-year deals.

Davis and James showed that with a solid core, they can win a championship. And now, this Lakers roster is the deepest it’s been since winning in the bubble. With that, it is expected that Los Angeles exceeds the WCF this season and competes for their 18th championship.

Last season was deemed a success because of their illustrious turnaround.

Anything less than a championship should be considered a failure this season.

“You have that mentality here, that is what gets it here,” the late great Kobe Bryant once said. “This franchise is not about hanging division banners. It does not hang conference championships. We hang one banner and one banner only and that is NBA titles.”

SEASON PREDICTIONS

The Western Conference is as competitive as it’s ever been. The Lakers are among the deepest teams in the league, but how will that fair over the span of the regular season?

Ihrke: 48-34 record, 4th seed

I love their depth but Anthony Davis and LeBron will probably miss time and I don’t think they will care much about playoff seeding.

Moreno: 51-31 record, 2nd seed

I think the Lakers are able to withstand the regular-season grind more than in previous years. Not to mention the pop-off potential of high-end role players like Austin Reaves and D’Angelo Russell.

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