A day after the Los Angeles Lakers’ season ended in a landslide, general manager Rob Pelinka told reporters the team intends to “keep our core young players united.”
Those words didn’t go unnoticed by Washington Wizards forward Kyle Kuzma, who was drafted by the Lakers in 2017.
“I’ve heard that before.” Kuzma wrote on Twitter: On Tuesday, it added four crying emojis to the post.
Kuzma spent his first NBA season with the Lakers, playing alongside lotto picks Lonzo Ball, Julius Randle, Brandon Ingram, and many other young players who played key roles on other teams.
They were all released or released to acquire the star player the Lakers hoped for an immediate championship. In July 2019, Kuzma survived an Anthony Davis trade that sent Ball, Ingram and Josh Hart to the New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for Davis after the Lakers missed the playoffs. The following season, the Lakers won the championship. But a year later, after losing in the first round of the playoffs, the Lakers traded Kuzma to Washington as part of a deal with Russell Westbrook, hoping he could help them win their next championship.
Heading into this offseason, the Lakers face the question of whether they can or should persevere. On the one hand, they’ve just swept a team from Denver in the Western Conference Finals, showing how a steady build can pay off. Meanwhile, the Lakers are led by LeBron James, 38, who wants to win now.
It’s the tension that drives the Lakers when they decide what to do next.
“Obviously I’m very proud that this group made it to the Western Conference Finals,” Pelinka said at the end-of-season press conference on Tuesday, noting that the team’s goal is always to strive for a championship. said to do. “After the trade deadline, we had a league-leading record, and maintaining that continuity will be very important. rice field.”
The Lakers have had a lot of turnovers in recent years, but this year’s performance showed they may have a foundation to build. First-year head coach Durbin Hamm began to find effective rotations that helped the Lakers advance from the NBA’s worst record to the conference finals.
“It’s been a really great year,” Hamm said. He noted the support of Pelinka and Lakers owner Jeanie Buss, adding: “
Their roster has a promise. After the trade deadline passed, the Lakers had little time to contend, but they put up some good competition. Guard Austin Reeves was a good fit next to James and Davis, and Rui Hachimura, acquired in a January trade, provided the offensive burst needed. Dennis Schröder played a key role defensively. Lonnie Walker, Jared Vanderbilt and D’Angelo Russell also had postseason successes. Walker, for example, saved the Lakers. 4th Q 15 points Play against Golden State in Game 4 of Round 2.
The Lakers haven’t been built around young people this season, so it takes a little guesswork to understand what Pelinka means by the team’s “young core.” But Reeves will likely play a key role in that.
Reeves and Hachimura restricted free agent This year; Russell, Walker and Schröder are unrestricted free agents.
“I don’t know what the team will be like next year,” Davis said. “But whatever it is, even if we come to training camp with the mindset of building chemistry and laying the foundation for it, me and LeBron set the tone and let’s get back here and go further. It is said.”
Given the short amount of time the two have spent together, it’s hard to say how far they’ll go.
When James joined the Lakers as a free agent in 2018, some of his teammates were closer in age than his eldest son. He said he knew it would take patience to be part of that team and he was prepared to wait. However, it soon became clear that he wasn’t enjoying the interim.
The Lakers missed the playoffs in 2018-19, partly because James and Ball suffered serious injuries. Midway through the season, James began hinting that the Lakers wanted Davis from the Pelicans. The Lakers completed the trade that summer.
“Yes” James told the Los Angeles Times When I asked him if he was glad he didn’t have to be patient anymore, he said, “Because last year I was patient and you know what it did to me.”
On Monday after the Nuggets clinched the series, he showed a bit of the same impatience, saying, “At this point in my career, I’m not playing for anything but winning championships.”
James hinted at retiring after 20 seasons.
“Let’s see what happens next,” James said. “I don’t know. I don’t know. To be honest, I have a lot to think about. I have.”
Then he plainly said ESPN and bleacher report He said he was thinking of retiring.
“LeBron has given more to the game of basketball than anyone who has ever played,” Pelinka said. “Then you have the right to decide whether to donate more.”
James’ statements could be questioned either as a sign of exhaustion over the last four months of trying to play hard over a torn tendon in his leg, or as friend Carmelo Anthony announced his retirement this week. Some speculated that he might have thought so. He should too.
It’s also possible he was trying to pressure the Lakers to get a roster that could win next year. It could have been the controversial point guard who entered Game 4 of the Westerns, perhaps by finding a way to acquire his former teammate Kyrie Irving. Conference finals despite restrictive new salary cap regulations. Irving is a prodigious talent, but he has struggled to make a difference on the team since helping James to a championship in Cleveland in 2016.
The Lakers aren’t as used to delayed gratification as most other teams. When it worked, it didn’t take long to wait between winning a big star and winning.
The Lakers picked Magic Johnson first overall in 1979, won a championship in his rookie season, and won four more championships over the next decade.
Signing key players Shaquille O’Neal (free agent) and Kobe Bryant (post-draft deal) in the summer of 1996 took a few more years to pay off, but they won three straight without missing the playoffs. Achieved. .
He added Pau Gasol to Bryant’s team in February 2008, and although they lost the NBA Finals four months later, they went on to win back-to-back titles.
And Davis, like Johnson, helped the Lakers quickly win a championship. It was only two years since James came to Los Angeles.
Conversely, the Nuggets have spent years building this team.
They waited while point guard Jamal Murray grappled with a lengthy recovery from a torn ACL. Murray’s injury came in April 2021 after the Nuggets built a roster that could potentially win a championship. His recovery delayed the schedule.
Top star Nikola Jokic is still in his 20s, so he could afford to wait.
The reward for their perseverance is that the team seems calm even in the toughest moments and the players are perfectly engaged with each other. This season’s newcomers picked up on the culture quickly.
But James is ten years older than Jokic, which presents a unique challenge. No star has played as well at his age. He may not have reached his peak yet, but he’s still one of the best players in the game. On Denver’s season-ending night, he scored 40 points, more than anyone on either team.
James doesn’t want to wait, but it doesn’t always work out quickly. Look at the Westbrook trade that sent Kuzma to Washington. The Lakers failed to make the playoffs in Westbrook’s first season and traded him for a young player this season, contributing but not winning everything.
Given what the Lakers have established this year, they won’t be starting from scratch if they choose to continue on their current path. But it could be longer before James leaves.