A new champion has been crowned. The Los Angeles Lakers had been defending champions for 282 days. That reign ended as the Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Phoenix Suns in six games to win the 2021 NBA Finals. Just as the offseason felt like it came and went before you could even say “Giannis Antetokounmpo,” the Lakers’ title defense felt just as short as the team will now look to re-tool through the draft and free agency for another title run in 2022.
And with that being said, I’m here to state the case for why the Lakers will definitely return to the grandest stage of them all to win the franchise’s 18th championship. That’s right, the Lakers WILL win the 2022 NBA Finals.
Finally, the Lakers can catch a breath
The Lakers had the shortest offseason in NBA history this past year; only 71 days separated their 2020 NBA Finals victory from their 2020-21 regular-season opener against the Clippers. Their offseason — as well as the offseasons of other bubble teams — seemed to put them at a disadvantage right away for the 2020-21 season. This evidenced itself in soft tissue injuries sustained by players from teams who made deep 2020 playoff runs, most notably the Nets’ James Harden with his continuous hamstring injuries, the Lakers’ Anthony Davis who missed a significant amount of time due to a strained calf injury, and the Nuggets’ Jamal Murray who tore his ACL in April.
Aside from Murray’s ACL tear, Anthony Davis seemed to suffer the worst of the short offseason. He missed three months due to a strained calf injury, returning for the final month of the season. Signs of the AD from the 2020 NBA Playoffs slowly appeared, most notably in the May 9th game where he had 42 points, 12 rebounds, five assists, three steals, and three blocks in a 123-110 win against the Phoenix Suns. However, the mention of the “Suns” only reminds us of what happened three weeks later, as Davis strained his groin in game four of the first-round series against the Suns. He missed game five and tried to play in the sixth (and decisive) game of the series, but he had to be taken out halfway through the first quarter as the pain from the injury was too much to bear.
I haven’t even begun to dive into the other misfortunate injuries the Lakers had on their roster, the most important of which was LeBron James’ sprained ankle that kept him out for nearly two months.
All of that is to say that maybe the Lakers paid the inevitable price of missing out on these 2021 NBA Finals due to the sacrifices the team made in its pursuit of the 2020 championship. They’ll have 122 days between the end of their 2020-21 season and the first preseason game of the 2021-22 season. That should be plenty of time for LeBron James, Anthony Davis (more on those two later), and the others to become 110% healthy and ready for the new campaign.
An emphasis on shooting during this offseason
After injuries, the most prominent reason for the Lakers’ disappointing season was their lack of shooting. The Lakers’ 35.4 3P% in the season ranked 21st, while the team stooped to even lower levels during the playoffs, shooting 29.9% from three in their series against the Suns. That mark ranked 15th amongst the 16 teams in the first round (only the Wizards were worse).
It’d be insane if this season didn’t put that problem on Rob Pelinka’s radar, especially considering the fact that that was basically the team’s lone weakness during the 2019-20 championship season. He confirmed that he’s noticed this in his 2020-21 season exit interview, saying the following (per Lakers Nation):
“You can never have enough shooting so it’s something that’s always at the top of our mind when we’re building and constructing a roster.”
Although the start of free agency (3:00 p.m. PST on August 2nd) isn’t here yet, Pelinka and the Lakers may have already revealed their desire for better shooting through the 2021 NBA Draft prospects they’ve worked out so far. The Lakers have the 22nd overall pick, and if they don’t find a trade worth doing with the pick, they will probably look for a possible shooter that can come off the bench and nail some shots.
Recent season tidbits:
Trice – .373 3pt | 5.4 attempts
Schakel – .461 3pt | 6.4 attempts
Todd – .362 3pt | 3.1 – G-League attempts
Smart – .402 3pt | 6.2 attempts
McLaughlin – .408 3pt | 4 attempts
Hurt – .444 3pt | 5.3 attempts
— Mike Garcia (@CanyonDriver) July 16, 2021
No matter what they do with that 22nd overall pick, expect the Lakers to address their poor shooting in some sort of way during free agency. Names like J.J. Redick, Otto Porter, Jr., and Doug McDermott should be watched.
There’s nothing like a little chip on the shoulder
The “Washed King” tour.
That might as well have been the name of LeBron James’ return to the NBA Finals. LeBron claimed that many said he was “washed” after his first season with the Lakers resulted in his first absence from the NBA Playoffs since he was a rookie. Sure, some may have started to predict the start of his late-career decline, but LeBron may have over-exagerated how many people were actually calling him “washed”. Either way, it obviously motivated him in some ways, evidenced by how many times he used it as a hashtag on Twitter and Instagram.
LeBron might even bring that back, but either way, he will find some sort of specific self-motivation to get him back into the NBA Finals. What about Anthony Davis, though?
Davis had half an NBA careers’ worth of motivation coming into L.A. as many thought he didn’t have what it takes to win after many failed trips to the playoffs with the New Orleans Pelicans. He may end up having even more motivation for the 2020-21 season after many ridiculued him (once again) for his continued injury history — spearheaded by Charles Barkley’s “street clothes” joke during the playoffs on Inside the NBA.
Chuck calls Anthony Davis "Street clothes." 😂😬
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) June 2, 2021
Davis was obviously not physically ready for the beginning of the season, looking slow out on the court. Before he could get back to 100%, he sustained the calf injury. That seems to be behind him, as does the groin injury he had in the Suns series. After an offseason that has seen many throw shade at him, I’m expecting an angry and extremely motivated AD to tear apart the league next season. Maybe he will even secure that elusive Defensive Player of the Year award that he probably deserved at the end of the 2019-20 season.
It all begins and ends with the Lakers’ two superstars. With plenty of rest, rehabilitation, and motivation, the two should be able to carry the Lakers back to the promised land. Add in some improved shooting from the team’s role players, and the goal may be even easier than we Lakers fans suspect.