Dennis Schröder and Thomas Bryant have risen from the ashes

Dennis Schröder
CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA – JANUARY 02: Dennis Schroder, #17 of the Los Angeles Lakers, runs the court during the second half of the game against the Charlotte Hornets at Spectrum Center on January 02, 2023 in Charlotte, North Carolina. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

The Los Angeles Lakers are on a five-game winning streak. That streak is longer than any stretch they had during the 2021-22 season, and is currently tied with the Memphis Grizzlies as the longest active winning streak in the entire NBA. As with nearly every stretch of success the Lakers have had since 2018, this one has been spearheaded by LeBron James who is averaging 38 points per game during the streak, coincidentally turning 38 years old within this five-game tear. However, as we’ve seen throughout the last two seasons, even the best LeBron runs haven’t mattered at times when he’s not getting anything from the rest of the roster. That help has come during this stretch — and at the most desperate of times, with Anthony Davis still out — as Dennis Schröder and Thomas Bryant have picked up the slack… and then some.

In these five games, Dennis Schröder and Thomas Bryant are averaging 21.4 and 21.2 points per game, respectively. They’ve been astounding, putting on near All-NBA-type performances at times.

Schröder’s most notable contribution came in the win against the Miami Heat, which LeBron missed, as Schröder dropped 32 to send the Heat home. Still impressive, but somehow not the best game of his during this stretch, Schröder did also score 27 points in last night’s win against the Kings, with two of the 27 coming on the free throws that ultimately won the game (sorry De’Aaron Fox). Bryant’s most notable performance was also in that Kings game, as he seemingly could not miss any type of field-goal attempt the Kings elected to offer him, making 12 of 14 shots and scoring 29 points. These 29 points were the most he’s scored in a game since dropping 30 on August 2nd, 2020 in the Orlando bubble.

These two role players have joined LeBron in the pursuit of playing so well that the front office has no choice but to make a trade to make this team a true contender, and honestly, it’s shocking that they are in a position to do so with these Lakers.

We all now know about the four-year, $84 million contract extension that the Lakers offered Dennis Schröder in the midst of his 2020-21 season with the team. He declined, following it with a subpar performance against the Suns in the Lakers’ first-round playoff series, with his situation in the NBA only worsening more and more after that.

Things between Schröder and the Lakers soured after that playoff series, resulting in Schröder signing a one-year, veteran minimum contract with the Celtics for the 2021-22 season. Although he did produce at times for Boston, he did not fit well with the team. He was essentially dumped to the lowly Rockets in a trade last season (the Lakers were reported to be trying to acquire him at this time as well). The Celtics replaced him with Derrick White in a separate trade and, in a development that certainly did not make Schröder look the best, they went 19-6 to end the season while also storming through the entire Eastern Conference to reach the 2022 NBA Finals.

The Rockets and Schröder did not agree on a buyout, despite the fact that most thought the veteran Schröder would quickly want to leave that terrible bottom-feeding team to try and join a playoff contender. Maybe Schröder and his agent were aware that not many playoff contenders wanted his services after seeing the Celtics dump him. Maybe Schröder and his agent did not want to have Schröder agree to his first buyout in the NBA due to the optics of that decision, with it possibly affecting future contract negotiations in a negative way.

Whatever the reason was, Schröder admirably finished the season with the Rockets, destroyed everyone in his path while playing in EuroBasket this summer, and followed that with a return to the Lakers on another one-year, veteran minimum contract. Given the way that he’s currently playing, and especially if it continues until the end of the season, he will almost certainly command a better deal this summer.

Thomas Bryant has probably had an even tougher path leading him to his own return to the Lakers. He tore his ACL in January 2021 while playing with the Washington Wizards, returning January 12, 2022. Upon returning, he slowly found himself out of the rotation come March. The Wizards did not try to retain him, ultimately resulting in the Lakers being able to sign him to a one-year, veteran minimum deal this past summer. Whether it was due to the injury, the Wizards not playing him due to a cluttered frontcourt that included Kristaps Porzingis and Daniel Gafford, or both… those events over the last two years represented a stark fall from grace for a player who was averaging 10.5, 13.2, and 14.3 points per game in his second, third, and fourth seasons of his career, respectively.

“It’s very hard because that’s like the one love that you have in your life right there,” Bryant said about his ACL injury to NBC Sports Washington. “It’s the one thing that’s always been there, always intact that you know that you can always go to. When that’s taken away from you, it’s very hard. It’s almost depressing in a sort of way. But when you’re mentally strong and you keep talking to yourself and working with yourself mentally, the days don’t get so much harder, they get a little bit easier.”

That mental toughness from Bryant, as well as from Schröder in his own way, has directly resulted in the Lakers turning their 2022-23 season around. They’ve both stepped up in ways that I don’t think even the most optimistic Lakers fan could have expected, and it may be due to them and the other players on this roster taking it upon themselves to make the twilight of LeBron’s career as successful as possible while the front office continues to sit on their hands.

“He was really even-keeled throughout the whole game,” Bryant said after LeBron’s birthday performance against the Hawks on Dec. 30 (per Lakers Nation). “Not too up, not too down. The communication on his part was absolutely amazing and to see that performance from him, you just don’t wanna take greatness for granted like that.

That’s what makes these phoenix-like comebacks from Bryant and Schröder feel even more heart-warming. These aren’t coming via empty performances that will still likely help them get better deals in the offseason, like Malik Monk did last season. These are keeping not only the Lakers, but also the career of arguably the greatest player of all-time afloat. They may end up making both Bryant and Schröder both too expensive for the Lakers to retain in the offseason, but that’s a worry for another day.

For now, we’ll continue to enjoy these two tough-minded and talented individuals having career resurgences.

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