The Lakers were NBA champions at the conclusion of the 2020 NBA season in Orlando. It was the franchise’s 17th overall championship, and the fourth one for their star player, LeBron James. Obviously, they had a lot of expectations going into the 2021 season. However, they ran into a good number of turbulences along the way. Unfortunately, they were unable to regroup in time which is why they got eliminated in the first round of the playoffs this past Thursday against the Phoenix Suns. Despite them being a seventh-seeded team, compared to the Suns’ second seed, the Lakers were still heavily favored to come out victorious in the series. This was also the first time that any team of James’ was eliminated in the first round during his 18 year tenure in the league.
The Sad Ending
The Lakers’ final two games of the year was arguably their most disheartening effort. In game five, the Suns blew them out by a score of 115-85. It’s worth mentioning that Anthony Davis was out for that game due to an apparent groin injury that he suffered in game four of the series. Even though the Lakers were missing their second star player, everybody still anticipated that they would perform better. Specifically, there was some hope that James could possibly recreate his historic playoff run that he accomplished in 2018 with the Cleveland Cavaliers, in which he averaged 34 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 9 assists, while averaging 41.9 minutes per game (MPG) in 22 games played. However, James was also dealing with a nagging ankle injury himself. He sustained it a few months ago during the Lakers matchup against the Atlanta Hawks, in which Solomon Hill fell onto James’ right ankle.
The injury forced James to miss 27 games of the season. It carried over into the playoffs since James admitted himself that he was indeed not at 100 percent. Since the injury forced James to be not as aggressive as he usually is in the paint, he averaged a playoff career-low of 23.3 points per game (PPG). The Suns were able to easily pounce on a depleted Lakers roster. Game six was a “win or go home” situation for the Lakers since they were down 3-2.
However, that game was even worse than their previous matchup against the Suns. Despite Davis initially given the clear to play, he would wind up only playing for about five minutes. He once again reaggravated his groin injury. The Lakers in that game seemed as though they had given up on themselves as they only scored 14 first-quarter points. They also allowed Devin Booker to single-handedly outscore their entire roster in that particular quarter (22).
The Lakers’ Future
The Lakers never led at any point during the course of game six. They even trailed one time by as much as 29 points. Booker would end finishing the game with 47 points, and the Lakers would end their season in dismay and heartbreak. A lot of people are pondering what happens next for the Lakers since they finished below expectations. Well, the main thing for them is to get their star players rested and healthy for next season. Because, due to the extension of the 2020 season, the Lakers only had a 72-day offseason. This is well below the usual 130-day offseason during a normal NBA schedule.
Not only that, but the NBA decided to schedule 72 regular season games for this season. Given the short amount of time, that can usually result in injury or fatigue. Something similar happened during the 2011-12 season in which the NBA had to cram 66 games in a four month span due to a lockout that postponed the start of the season.
The Lakers will also have a decent amount of players that will become unrestricted free agents. The list of upcoming free agents include: Montrezl Harrell (player option), Dennis Schröder, Andre Drummond, Wesley Matthews, Alex Caruso, Ben McLemore, Talen Horton-Tucker, Markieff Morris, and Jared Dudley. The only players that still remain on the roster officially are obviously James and Davis, Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Marc Gasol, and Alfonzo McKinnie. The Lakers will have about $121.9 million on the books. This includes -$13.1 million of cap space and, barring if Harrell decides to opt-out, $9.5 million of mid-level exception. They will also select 22nd overall in this year’s NBA Draft. Despite the injuries, general manager Rob Pelinka might have to make a couple of tough decisions. Because the journey will get tougher for the Lakers to win another championship.
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