The Los Angeles Lakers‘ title defense ended this week. After winning the championship in last year’s bubble, LeBron James and Anthony Davis struggled to stay healthy in 2020-21, and the team was eliminated in six games by the No. 2 seed Phoenix Suns in the first round of the playoffs.
With additions like Dennis Schroder, Marc Gasol, and Montrezl Harrell, the Lakers looked like they might take things to another level this year. Instead, injuries prevent the team from really developing the chemistry necessary to run through a deep Western Conference. After the series loss, LeBron said that it was the one major thing that bothered him this season.
If the Lakers can guarantee a healthy year from 37-year old LeBron James and a return to form for Anthony Davis, who missed the back half of the Suns series with a groin injury, they should be contenders in 2021-22 again. Of course, we saw just how tenuous that can be this year. Still, general manager Rob Pelinka believes that the main goal for the offseason is keeping his core intact, even if it is a relatively unproven one.
“I’m convinced that, again, without some of the unforeseen circumstances this year, the challenges that we had to face, that we’d be a championship-caliber team,” he told reporters on Friday night, via ESPN‘s Dave McMenamin. “So the goal is to try to keep that core group together.”
New story: Fresh off a first round exit and with eight players set to hit free agency, Lakers GM Rob Pelinka remains focused on another title: “We have an insatiable desire and passion to bring banner No. 18 here” https://t.co/ATHPsUnG1n
— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) June 5, 2021
Now, one of his main jobs is to determine which of his free agents-to-be makeup that “core group.” As many as nine members of the Los Angeles Lakers could hit free agency this offseason, with LeBron, Davis, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Kyle Kuzma locked in for next year, making over $100 million as a group.
That includes Schroder, the Lakers third-best player for much of the year, who faded in the postseason going head to head with Chris Paul. He turned down an $84 million contract offer during the season, amid trade talks with the Toronto Raptors involving Kyle Lowry.
Gasol and Andre Drummond, a mid-year acquisition who struggled to see major minutes late in the year, could leave the team with a big hole inside. Harrell has a $9.7 million player option that could be declined if he thinks he can get more money elsewhere.
Even with all of those factors to juggle, the goal for the Lakers remains the same, Pelinka says:
“We have an insatiable desire and passion to bring banner No. 18 here. And we’re excited about the work we’re going to commence tomorrow to get that done for our fans and for the organization.”