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Lakers newsletter: Some predictions for the new season

LeBron James calls a play against the Phoenix Suns during a preseason game.
(Associated Press)

Welcome back to the Lakers newsletter, which will be a little more condensed this week thanks to the build up to this season. The runway was shorter than I expected, and it got me thinking about the most important lesson I ever learned in this NBA.

Years ago when I was covering the Clippers, I was on a seven-game road trip or something like that. And I remember the fifth game was against Boston, and Doc Rivers and the Clippers won an emotional game. The next day, they played in Brooklyn and I remember getting off the plane in New York with a lot of energy.

It was a crisp winter day, but the sun was out, and I got to walk around the city and have a good lunch. Everything was going great until I got to the arena, when suddenly, the exhaustion hit me like a steel chair from a heel wrestler.

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“I’ve got to get the (expletive) home,” I thought.

That night, the Clippers were playing a severely depleted Nets team. It should’ve been an easy win. But the Nets destroyed them.

I remember talking to a player in the locker room postgame and that player shared the same experience – New York energy during the day and just total exhaustion once game-time came. The lesson, I realized, was that if I’m feeling something covering a team, it’s probably a safe bet the players are feeling it too.

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With that being said, I can’t believe the NBA season is here already. I’m not sure I’m even fully unpacked from the bubble. And if I’m still getting my bearings for a 72-game season, my guess is some players are in the same boat.

So the Lakers are probably not as ready as they would like to be to get this thing started.

Here are eight other predictions for the 2020-21 NBA season.

Anthony Davis will win the MVP

Anthony Davis celebrates winning the NBA championship.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The stage is just so perfectly set.

Take the confidence gained from winning a title, add in the mandate to shoot more from deep and the presumed lighter workload for LeBron James and hold up against a voting electorate that’s probably not all that eager to give the award to Giannis Antetokounmpo for a third straight year.

After the Bucks failed to get to the Finals in the last two seasons, it’s hard to see how voters won’t hold that against him in his effort to win the award a third straight time. James Harden’s murky situation probably makes him an unlikely candidate and Luka Doncic’s candidacy might be tied too tightly to a team that’s going to be scrapping in the middle of a loaded West.

So who else is there? Maybe it’s the dominant two-way force with the monster statistics who now has a title to his name.

It just feels like it’s Davis’ time.

Dennis Schroder, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, James, Davis and Marc Gasol will be the standard starting lineup

Coach Frank Vogel hasn’t committed to a lineup publicly, but the smart money is on these five getting the most sustained look. Schroder can help ease the point-guard responsibilities, KCP’s shooting and cutting make him a slick offensive fit and Gasol’s selfless style on offense and IQ on defense make the trio the ideal teammates for James and Davis.

Kyle Kuzma and Wesley Matthews seem in line for spot starts as does Montrezl Harrell (and with the likelihood of absences due to COVID-19 protocols, those guys should all get chances).

Talen Horton-Tucker will generate serious trade buzz

Who knows how many minutes THT will get in Vogel’s rotation, and who knows whether he can sustain the effectiveness that he had in four preseason games? But even if he can’t, THT vaulted to the top of the list of Lakers’ assets, the kind of young player that any team with a long-term plan would want to get a hold of.

While teams make moves this spring to try and unseat the defending champs and the Lakers look to counter, don’t be surprised to hear THT’s name come up as the player teams would want. If the Lakers make a big move, opposing teams will be seeking Horton-Tucker in return.

The Lakers will add a big man

On Monday night, I had a conversation with Bill Plaschke about the upcoming season, and I kept coming back to how different the Lakers are going to look on opening night. And the biggest difference will be how they play at and above the rim.

Now I don’t expect the Lakers to make a big move (last year’s acquisition of Markieff Morris turned out to be a huge victory on the buyout market), but finding someone who can block shots and catch lobs would fill one of the biggest holes the team created with their moves.

Kyle Kuzma will shoot better than 35% from three

The numbers are what they are – among the Lakers’ regulars last season, no one had a worse three-point percentage than Kyle Kuzma (31.6 percent).

The newly extended forward hasn’t been a consistent shot maker since his rookie season, but something about his preseason performance (and word from his teammates) makes me think he’ll be more efficient this season.

One big reason? If Kuzma comes off the bench, expect to see him in second units with Harrell and Schroder, forcing defenses to account for other shot creators than just him.

The Lakers’ chemistry will come into question

The Lakers’ relatively drama-free locker room was a huge story last season thanks to the tone set by James and Davis and great locker room guys like Jarden Dudley and Danny Green. But normally, things aren’t so smooth.

With significant c
hanges to the roster, with young players knocking on the door for minutes and lots of offensively gifted players, some roles are going to end up being smaller than people expected and that creates drama.

The Lakers have the ecosystem to handle it, and it’s a safe bet that they’ll probably have to at one point or another.

LeBron James and Anthony Davis won’t play in the Olympics

Don't look for LeBron James in an Olympic uniform next year.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

This is an easy one.

Two of Team USA’s key pieces are going to have to say “Nah” to the Olympics whether or not the Lakers go deep into the playoffs after such an abbreviated offseason.

Fans will be in Staples Center for Lakers games (eventually)

The images of frontline health workers getting their first doses of the coronavirus vaccine makes me hopeful that people will get to witness the Lakers in person this season.

It probably won’t happen in any significant numbers until widespread distribution of the vaccine, but the NBA is hopeful it can happen, maybe even before the playoffs.

Let’s hope so.

Question of the week

OK friends – email me at daniel.woike@latimes.com with your boldest prediction for the upcoming season. I’ll add my favorites to next week.

Song of the week

Wildflowers & All the Rest
(Youtube)

There wasn’t much to celebrate in 2020. The Lakers get to have one of them Tuesday with their ring ceremony. And I get to use this space to express my joy for the amazing “Wildflowers” remaster that came out this fall.

It’s not the best record I’ve ever heard, but Tom Petty’s 1994 classic is maybe my favorite. Every few years while travelling city to city, I’ll be walking through an airport and a song from the record will come up and instantly move to the top of my rotation (most recently, “To Find a Friend.”)

My favorite track right now is the album’s penultimate track, “Crawling Back to You.” Click here to enjoy a live recording from the new expanded re-release.

There’s a lot you might’ve missed


Kyle Kuzma has new contract, still working on Lakers role

Adam Silver says NBA is prepared to change plans if coronavirus protocols fail

Reloaded Lakers in prime position to repeat as NBA champions

Coach Frank Vogel likes what he sees from unbeaten Lakers

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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