Could Anthony Davis’ Return Trigger Championship Stretch Run by Lakers?
Lakers fans received some great news as Anthony Davis could possibly return to the court as soon as next week and be ready to play as the team embarks on a critical 5-game East coast road trip a week from tomorrow.
While Davis’ return is obviously dependent upon him continuing to be pain free as he ramps up his workouts and practices, the news could not have been better from the Lakers’ standpoint as they’re struggling to stay alive.
Currently at 21–25, the injury plagued Lakers are now in 13th place in the West, but just 1.0 game out of 10th place and the Play-In Tournament, and 2.0 games out of 6th place and a guaranteed top-6 seed in the playoffs.
Right now, nobody knows for sure what the Lakers’ front office is going to do. Normally, that inscrutability might be viewed as positive marketing. With the Lakers, however, most assign that uncertainty to dysfunction.
The Laker need to stop worrying about the future post LeBron and instead focus on the fact that James clearly looks like he will still be a superstar force for the three years remaining on his contracts with the Lakers.
With the Wild West still wide open, do the Lakers still have a chance to make the playoffs? Who should start when AD returns? What trades should they make at the deadline? And can they win another championship?
Do Lakers Have Chance to Make Playoffs?
The Los Angeles Lakers have two paths to make the playoffs. They could finish in the top six teams in the West, which could give them a guaranteed playoff spot, or they could win a play-off spot in the Play-In Tournament.
Based on last seasons West standings, the Lakers would have to finish with a 48–34 record to earn a top-6 seed in the playoffs. Since they already lost 25 games, L.A. would need to finish the season 28–9 to match that mark.
While that might be impossible, the Utah Jazz currently hold the #6 place in the West with a 24–24 record so there’s a good chance the Lakers might be able to sneak into the top-6 in the West with less than a 48–34 record.
If the Lakers don’t finish in the top-6 in the West, they will need a win in the Play-In Tournament to secure either the 7th or 8th seed. Last season, the 7th seed Wolves finished 46–36 while the 10th seed Spurs were 36–46.
Again, the wins needed to make the Play-In Tournament are likely to be less than last season since the current 7th place Wolves are only 1 game over .500 and the 8th, 9th, and 10th place teams all have losing records.
In the best case scenario, the Lakers finish in the top 6 in the West. If they miss the top-6, finishing 7th or 8th is critical as they will get two chances to win a Play-In game and earn either the 7th or 8th seed in the West playoffs.
Who Should Start for Lakers When AD Returns?
Once Davis and hopefully Walker and Reaves return from injury, Darvin Ham will hopefully remove Beverley from the starting lineup and settle instead on a Schroder, Walker, James, Davis, and Bryant starting lineup.
The other major change Ham has to make is return to his original lineup plan, which was to start Anthony Davis and Thomas Bryant at the four and five like the Bucks started Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez.
Moving LeBron and AD down a position gives the Lakers a positional size advantage in the front court, which is critical for a team that counters losing the 3-point battle by winning free-throws and points-in-paint.
Besides giving the team front court size, starting Thomas Bryant gives the Lakers another potential major scorer who attacks the rim aggressively but also has a deadeye shooting stroke both in the paint to beyond the arc.
The other advantage of starting Thomas Bryant next to Anthony Davis is probably the best way to take advantage of Thomas’ great offensive skills while minimizing the negative impact of his limited defensive ability.
Once AD returns and until the front office pulls off a non-Westbrook, one-pick trade, the Lakers should focus on a starting lineup of Dennis Schroder, Lonnie Walker IV, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Thomas Bryant.
What Trades Should Lakers Make At Deadline?
Most observers expect the Lakers to keep Russell Westbrook and one of their two tradeable first round draft picks and trade Patrick Beverley and Kendrick Nunn plus salary filler and a protected first round draft pick.
The Lakers’ two greatest needs are a clutch starting small forward who’s a high percentage, high volume 3-point shooter who can close games and an athletic shot-blocking backup center to anchor the second team defense.
The best non-Westbrook, one-pick trade the Lakers could make would be Beverley, Jones, Brown, Nunn, and Toscano-Anderson plus a 20276 top-3 protected first round draft pick for Bogdan Bogdanovic and Nerlens Noel.
While Bogdanovic and Noel give the Lakers a nice boost in size, shooting, and defense, the Lakers still need a 3&D wing like the Knicks’ Cam Reddish to balance the roster and give them another option in the front court. Trading Lonnie straight up for Cam is a deal that should appeal to both the Lakers and the Knicks. The Lakers get Reddish and his Bird rights and the Knicks, who always have cap space, get a talented young player in Walker.
Lakers swap Beverley, Walker, Nunn, Jones, Brown, Toscano-Anderson, and their 2027 top-3 protected first round draft pick for Bojan Bogdanovic, Nerlens Noel, and Cam Reddish. Lakers keep Westbrook and 2029 pick.
Do Lakers Have Chance to Win Championship?
With a healthy LeBron James and Anthony Davis playing at an MVP level and trade reinforcements in Bojan Bogdanovic, Nerlens Noel, and Cam Reddish, this Lakers team could even be better than the bubble champs.
Frankly, the Lakers have always believed that a healthy LeBron James and Anthony Davis is all they needed to have a legitimate chance to win the NBA championship, which they essentially proved to everybody in 2020.
While ownership and the front office may have had doubts, the way LeBron James is playing right now and Anthony Davis was playing before he got hurt have pretty much confirmed they are both top-5 superstars.
The Lakers post-trade starting lineup should be Dennis Schroder, Austin Reaves, Bojan Bogdanovic, LeBron James, and Anthony Davis. Bryant moves to the bench to give Bogdanovic as starting spot at small forward.
Westbrook will still run dominate the second unit but he will have more size and defense with Cam Reddish as backup small forward to guard bigger wings and Nerlens Noel as backup center to protect the rim.
While the Bogdanovic and Noel trade erases any cap space from letting Russ’ contract expire, keeping him could be the key to the Lakers winning the championship as he’s now learned how to play with LeBron and AD.
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