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Newsletter: What’s next for the Lakers? Some rest, for sure

On the sideline, LeBron James and Anthony Davis reach out to clasp hands.
Lakers forward LeBron James exchanges a handshake with teammate Anthony Davis after a season-ending loss to Phoenix on June 3.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Hey everyone, it’s Dan Woike, Lakers beat writer for the Los Angeles Times, happy to report I’m writing this newsletter from a beach. Sure, it’s Long Beach, and I’m in an office watching TV, but still, there’s a little breeze from a ceiling fan.

The NBA season is about to reach its most interesting point, but the Lakers aren’t a part of it, their slog through this pandemic schedule over after a so-so showing in the first round against Phoenix.

After winning an NBA championship in extreme circumstances and bouncing back to compete in one of the toughest seasons ever, they’ve earned the break.

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Undone by injuries and burdened by fatigue, the Lakers fought in stretches to extend their season last week against the Suns. But for every few moments of LeBron James barreling down the court, trying to lift the Lakers on his own, there were times when James didn’t try to get back on defense.

It pointed to a few things. One, he was tired. They all were. Everyone who has been around the team since the bubble last summer is weary. And two, James knew that, with Anthony Davis hurt again, he wasn’t going to be able to go supernova to get this whole thing done.

As someone who has covered his share of teams that have been bounced in the playoffs, the scene is usually (and understandably) morose, the last day of a relationship thrust upon everyone unexpectedly. Normally, there’s some depression and emptiness that follow — everything you’ve done for the last eight months is gone, and there’s nothing immediately ahead of you.

Yet that’s not the feeling I got from the Lakers after elimination last week, and as I’ve watched the playoffs continue, I’m even more convinced.

That weird thing I noticed as I sat inside at an empty Staples Center last Thursday night? It was relief.

Now don’t get me wrong. The Lakers wanted to win, believed that if things had broken their way that they could’ve won. But the playoffs expose truths, and the truth was that the Lakers hadn’t been a credible threat for months because of how players broke down.

That’s not to say there weren’t other issues. The team never fully integrated center Andre Drummond and had to deal with the fallout of trying to add a starter midseason (with two established players already on the roster at his position). Dennis Schroder never fully got comfortable (his words) playing with James and Davis. Some of the roster decisions at the back end of the bench ended up being costly — the lack of a third point guard crucial late in the season.

But mostly, it was about mental and physical health.

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It’s not an excuse — the Lakers weren’t the only team dealing with injuries and fatigue from the last year. They just seemed more susceptible to accepting it.

In the aftermath of the Game 6 loss to Phoenix, in what was his final media appearance with Lakers writers this season, James talked about rest.

“During the season, I don’t talk about rest. I don’t like to put my mind-frame into that. It makes me weak,” he said. “But in the offseason, I get an opportunity to rest. I get like three months to recalibrate, get my ankle back to 100% where it was before the Atlanta game, and that’s the most important thing for me.”

The Lakers knew they were spent, and if they didn’t, the energy the Suns hit them with in Games 5 and 6 convinced them of it. Without some players’ physical health or emotional capacity for more, the season ended with a shrug.

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What’s next?

What does everyone want? Respond to the email, or text me at Full-Court Text with ideas and suggestions.

I’m not sure how often the newsletter is going come through over the next few weeks as I, too, take a break. I’m thinking of using this as a place to do some general NBA/Lakers musings every few weeks or so until we get back into the teeth of the offseason with trades and free agency and such in August.

(Also, as of now, I’ll be headed to Tokyo for the Summer Olympics.)

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Song of the week

“Rest My Chemistry,” by Interpol.

I saw Interpol play a street festival in Chicago around 2003, and they were awesome. At their best, they’re beautifully moody, Joy Division-inspired rockers. This song makes me want to sit on my patio half-asleep with my feet up, which sounds just amazing.

Since we last spoke ...

— Lakers offseason: What you need to know about roster changes

— Lakers’ biggest offseason problem: What to do at center?

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Lakers fan favorite Alex Caruso faces the unknown of free agency

— In this season of obstacles, Lakers couldn’t regain health

— Plaschke: Is LeBron James too old, Anthony Davis too frail? Playoff failure suggests so

Until next time...

As always, pass along your thoughts to me at daniel.woike@latimes.com, and please consider subscribing if you like our work!

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