The Lakers this year were one of the most disappointing teams in recent NBA history. According to PointsBet, coming into the league the Lakeshow had the second best odds to win the title but the season was anything but Show Time.
The Lakers missed the play-in tournament entirely and finished 16 games under 500. The team must now face questions as to which players will help them to return to the championship form they had two seasons ago. Probably the player with the biggest question mark, and the player who most people are truly unsure about what to do with is the big man in the middle, Anthony Davis.
With the Lakers, when he plays, the 8 time all-star has been nothing short of absolutely dominant, averaging over 24 points per game on greater than 50 percent shooting, over 9 rebounds, two blocks and one steal per game, stats that are not matched by a single player across the NBA. These stats show the immense and extremely unique talent that the product from Kentucky has to offer.
The problem with AD is that everything is prefaced with saying when he plays. Throughout his career, and particularly in the last two years injuries have been a problem. In those past two seasons he has missed over half of the Lakers games including one playoff game he sat out and another he only played 5 minutes in.
This past season Davis dealt with a variety of injuries that caused him to miss various games, and he was out during the month of March when his team really needed him. In that month, where the Lakers needed to make a run to make the playoffs, the team went four and 12, all games they played without the Brow. Without Davis this season, the Lakers went 16 and 26. If that win percentage was expanded to an 82 game season, it would result in a 31 win team.
The time he has missed has earned Davis some rather unaffectionate nicknames like Anthony Day-to-Davis, and one from Charles Barkley that is simply Street Clothes because he as the Chuckster says he “is always in street clothes”.
While Davis has never had a year-long injury, he has had very serious and concerning injuries in the past. Last year, he had a calf and achilles injury that sidelined him for around two months because of how dangerous the injury can be. Everyone remembers when KD rushed back from a calf injury and it resulted in an achilles tear, and while he has come back and been the same player, people like Boogie Cousins, Chauncy Billups, and even Kobe had major fall offs after that injury.
His recent injuries along with his injury history beg the question, should the Lakers move on and look for someone new to pair with Lebron? In the short-term and particularly for next year, the answer should be no.
We have seen Lebron and AD play together, and when they were healthy, it resulted in a championship. Doing so in a bubble does mean that it was a vastly different environment, but that does not mean that it was necessarily easier for them. It could be argued that if they were not in the bubble, the Lakers would not have won, but before the NBA bubble the Lakers were 49 and 14. That record was good enough for first in the Western conference, and it was more wins than all but two other teams had after the additional regular season games in the bubble.
When The Brow plays for the Lakers they have a win percentage at 63.2 percent which would amount to around 52 wins, and that total jumps to around a 57 win season for games that James and Davis both play in.
I haven’t even mentioned Davis’ defensive ability yet. He is considered to be one of the best defenders in the league and is known to be able to switch and effectively guard all five positions while still providing rim protection. This unique ability was noted by none other than Kevin Durant who called him “elite”. This ability has earned Davis four NBA all-defensive teams so far. His defensive expertise has also shown up while on the Lakers. In two of his three years with the Lakers, when he is on the court his team has had a defensive rating that would be good enough for the best defense in the NBA, and the other year they still would have been top 10 in defensive rating with him on the court.
The Lakers problems go far beyond Davis, and while they do need the superstar to be at his best and available, the front office and more specifically Rob Pelinka need to address a team that finished outside the top 20 in both offensive and defensive rating.
After having his worst season ever in terms of his value over replacement player stat, Pelinka needs to find a way to get rid of Russell Westbrook. When playing together, Westbrook, James and Davis had a negative net rating and a below average true shooting percentage, which is a shooting percentage that factors two pointers, free throws, and threes differently to more accurately describe efficiency.
Trading Westbrook will be no easy task. If he opts into his contract Westbrook will be owed around 47 million dollars. NBA teams are not looking to pay a player more than anyone was paid this year when he only averages 18.5 points on 44 percent shooting, 7 rebounds and 7 assists, and for half of his career has had a negative defensive box plus minus. However, it is up to the Lakers front office to find some way to do so.
Teams could have interest in Westbrook because he has an incredible reputation, he is easily able to draw fans and attention to his team, and he is on an expiring contract so teams would only need to pay him for one year then can move on. So a team that has a low salary next year and is looking for more fan engagement may have serious interest in trading for Russ.
According to Lakers Beat Reporter Dan Woike, and NBA Insider Marc Stein, rumors have floated around that the Charlotte Hornets or Indiana Pacers may be interested in Russ’s expiring contract. In those cases it would likely mean the Lakers trade for other players that are being paid more than they may be worth like Gordon Hayward, Buddy Hield, or Malcolm Brogdon. Exact trades that work money wise are Russ for either Hield and Brogdon, or Hayward and Terry Rozier. All of those players offer something that Westbrook does not, a career three point percentage over 31 percent. However, the Lakers may need to throw in a couple of picks to sweeten the deal.
For the Lakers, finding a way to maximize their spacing and defense should be the top priority for the front office. When they won the championship in 2020, they did so by having the third best defensive rating and best field goal percentage in the NBA. Now, it is up to Rob Pelinka to reorganize the team, and find a new head coach that can recreate the magic that they had that year. Having AD and Lebron as the leaders of the team is a good start.
If the Lakers reach a point that they are unable to move Westbrook, they will likely need to see what the return for AD is. With AD, Russ and Lebron, the Lakers are basically at the salary cap. Out of the three stars, AD is the youngest and might be the one to get them the most return value in a trade. So, if the Lakers are unable to move on from Westbrook, and Lebron is unhappy and demands moves be made, they have to look into the return for Davis and hope that it is enough to overcome the faults of Westbrook.
The Lakers first choice however should be to try and keep Davis and James together. When the two undeniable superstars are playing with one another, the Lakers can compete with anyone. If they are able to keep both stars healthy and build a team that is complementary to their skill sets it means they could contend for championships.
The best way for the Lakers to get back to the championship attitude that they know better than almost any other NBA franchise is by getting the most out of their all time NBA top 75 player.
It is not very difficult to imagine either. Davis has played over 80 percent of his teams games in five of his NBA seasons including his first with the Lakers, when they won the championship. The first step to him remaining healthy is to ensure his body is in the best shape possible. His teammate Lebron is a staple of health in part because as it has been famously reported that he spends 1.5 million dollars on his body each year. AD on the other hand has been called by Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett for being out of shape and needing to change his offseason regimen to stay healthier.
If Davis is able to stay in shape and stay healthy this next season for the Lakers it likely will mean that they are a playoff bound team that has a chance at making a championship type run in the playoffs.
The competition will be tough next year as the Nuggets will get a healthy Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr, the Grizzlies are a young team that will likely continue to improve, the Mavs have Luka Doncic, and the Suns and Warriors are two of the favorites to win it all this year. In order to keep up with the stacked Western Conference, the Lakers will need a new team that fits well together, but having Davis and Lebron is a good foundation.
Lebron James is now 37 and has missed at least 26 games in 3 of his last four years. This is also his final year under contract with the Lakers, and he has openly talked about his desire to both return to Cleveland and play with his son. So the Lakers need a second star that they can depend on to both lift up the franchise, and keep the King happy so he keeps his throne in LA. If next year Davis continues to struggle with injuries, and he misses more than half of his team's games again, then at the 2023 trade deadline the team needs to trade him. If they are forced to do so, it likely will spell the end of an interesting era in Lakers history, and one that unfortunately ended because of injuries.
For now though, the best way for the Lakers to rebound from their difficult year is to keep Davis and build a more functional team around AD and King James.
But what do you think? Should the Lakers trade Anthony Davis? Be sure to subscribe and let us know what you think in the comments.