The day after the Los Angeles Lakers’ season ended with a win, general manager Rob Pelinka told reporters that the team intended to “keep our core of young guys together.”
This quote did not go unnoticed by the Lakers, who drafted Washington Wizards forward Kyle Kuzma in 2017.
“He’s heard it before.” Kuzma wrote on Twitter Adding four crying emojis to a post on Tuesday.
Kuzma spent his first NBA season with the Lakers, playing alongside lottery picks Lonzo Ball, Julius Randle and Brandon Ingram, as well as several other young players playing important roles on other teams.
All the Lakers have traded away or released star players they hoped would lead to immediate championships. In the year After the Lakers missed the playoffs in July 2019, Kuzma survived the Anthony Davis trade, which sent Ball, Ingram and Josh Hart to the New Orleans Pelicans for Davis. The Lakers won the championship the following season. But a year later, after losing in the first round, the Lakers traded Kuzman to Washington for Russell Westbrook, hoping it would help them win the next championship.
Heading into this offseason, the Lakers are faced with the question of whether they should be patient or not. On the one hand, they were just swept in the Western Conference finals by a Denver team that showed just how valuable a permanent building can be. On the other hand, the Lakers are led by 38-year-old LeBron James, who now wants to win.
It’s tension that the Lakers will pull as they decide what happens next.
“We’re incredibly proud of this team,” Pelinka said at Tuesday’s wrap-up news conference, adding that the team’s goal has always been to work toward a championship. “After the trade deadline, we had one of the top records in the league. Maintaining that continuity will be important. We finally say goodbye to a team with good continuity.”
The Lakers have had a lot of turnover in recent years, but their performance this year shows they may have a foundation to build on. First-year head coach Darwin Hamm began to find rotations that worked, helping the Lakers go from the worst record in the NBA to the conference finals.
“It’s been a hell of a year,” Hamm said. He cited support from Pelinka and Lakers owner Jeannie Buss, adding: “To get through some of those tough times early on, you know, we wouldn’t have had that support, we probably wouldn’t have gotten to this point.” “
Their list has promise. After the trade deadline, the Lakers competed well, although they had little time to gel. Guard Austin Reaves has been excellent alongside James and Davis, and Rui Hachimura, acquired in a trade in January, has provided vital offensive bursts. Dennis Schroder was crucial defensively. Lonnie Walker, Jared Vanderbilt and D’Angelo Russell have had moments of success in the postseason. For example, Walker saved the Lakers with a 15-point fourth quarter in Game 4 of the second round against Golden State.
The Lakers haven’t been built around youth this season, so it takes a bit of guesswork to figure out what Pelinka means by the team’s “young core.” But Reves is likely a key part of that.
Reaves and Hachimura are restricted free agents this year; Russell, Walker and Schroder are unrestricted free agents.
“We don’t know what kind of team we have next year,” Davis said. But regardless, building that chemistry, building that foundation, LeBron and I set the tone, trying to get back here and going forward, anybody that came into training camp.
It’s hard to tell how much more you can get because of the little time you’ve spent together.
When James joined the Lakers as a free agent in 2018, some of his teammates were closer to his oldest son’s age than he was. He said he knows being part of the team requires patience and is ready to wait. But it quickly became clear that he didn’t like it temporarily.
The Lakers missed the playoffs in the 2018-19 season, due in part to injuries to James and Ball. Midway through the offseason, James began hinting that he wanted the Lakers to acquire Davis from the Pelicans. That summer, the Lakers completed the trade.
“Yeah,” James told the Los Angeles Times when asked if he was happy he no longer had to put up with it. Because I’ve been patient for the past year, so you know where to find me.
After the Nuggets wrapped up their series on Monday, he showed a little impatience, saying, “I’m not going to play anything but winning championships in my career.”
James has hinted that he will retire after 20 seasons.
“We’ll see what happens,” James said. “I don’t know. I don’t know. To be honest, I have a lot to think about. To be honest, I have a lot to think about. Just for me, I have a lot to think about going forward in the game of basketball.
Later, he openly told ESPN and Bleacher Report that he intended to retire.
“LeBron gave as much to the game of basketball as anyone,” Pelinka said. “When you do that, you get the right to decide whether to give more.”
Will some see James’ comments as tired from the past four months, a Herculean effort to play with a torn ligament in his foot, or perhaps friend Carmelo Anthony announcing his retirement this week? He should too.
He may also be trying to pressure the Lakers into building a championship-winning roster next year — perhaps finding a way to welcome former teammate Kyrie Irving, the controversial point guard who took part in Game 4 of the Western Conference. Conference finals despite new salary cap rules. Irving is incredibly talented, but James has struggled to make a difference on teams since helping him win a championship in Cleveland in 2016.
The Lakers aren’t as used to delaying gratification as other teams. It didn’t take long for the wait to find and win a big star.
The Lakers drafted Magic Johnson with the No. 1 overall pick in 1979 and won a championship his rookie season, then four more over the next decade.
In the year It took a few years for their key signings in the summer of 1996 – Shaquille O’Neal (free agent) and Kobe Bryant (post-draft contract) – but they never missed the playoffs before winning three championships in a row. .
In the year They added Pau Gasol to Bryant’s team in February 2008, and four months later they lost in the NBA Finals and then won back-to-back championships.
And Davis, like Johnson, helped the Lakers win the championship right away. It was only James’ second year in Los Angeles.
Conversely, the Nuggets have spent years building this team.
They waited as point guard Jamaal Murray endured a long recovery from an anterior cruciate ligament tear. Murray’s injury came in April 2021, after the Nuggets had built a roster that looked like it could win a championship. His recovery delayed that timeline.
Their star player, Nikola Jokic, is still in his 20s, so they have the potential to wait.
The reward for their patience is a team that seems calm in difficult times, with players who bond with each other. This season’s newcomers understood the culture immediately.
But James is 10 years older than Jokic, and that poses a unique challenge. He never played like a star player at his age. He may not be at his peak, but he is still one of the best players in the game. Denver had 40 points on the night that ended the season – more than either team.
James doesn’t want to wait, but quick fixes don’t always work; Look at the Westbrook trade that sent Kuzman to Washington. The Lakers missed the playoffs in Westbrook’s first season, then this season helped by young players, but couldn’t win it all.
If the Lakers choose to stay on their current path this year, they won’t be starting from scratch. But James may take more time than he lets on.