LeBron James is setting feats of longevity. Anthony Davis, when healthy, is a dominant game-changing forward. For how much longer do the Lakers have a reasonable championship window and do the NBA odds properly reflect that?
LeBron James has defied age as he continues to play at an MVP level even at age 36. It is tough to ascertain how much longer LeBron can keep at this level. It is truly unprecedented for an NBA player to continue to play so well with such athleticism at his advanced age. So while it is a challenge to estimate how much longer LeBron can maintain this MVP level of play we will attempt to do so anyway.
I think LeBron can maintain this level of play for 3 more seasons. That would move them to age 39. While Tom Brady has managed to be successful even at age 43, he does not rely on pure athletic dominance the way that LeBron has throughout his career. It is a testament to LeBron’s durability that we are less concerned about his injury potential going forward than we are of his 28-year-old co-star.
Anthony Davis has struggled with injuries for as long as he has played in the NBA. There is a long-running joke based upon the number of times that he went to the locker room as a member of the New Orleans Pelicans. As a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, he attempted to turn that image of himself around by attempting to play through injuries more frequently. Unfortunately, he suffered a groin injury that no amount of toughness would allow him to play through and he ended the year on the sideline. Davis also mentioned his concern for injury as a reason why he signed an extension one year earlier than he could have to maximize his earning potential. So Davis himself is also aware of his fragility. But fortunately, he is young enough to where he still fits into the timeline to be a key cog in LeBron James’ support system as they make a run for another title.
Another factor extending the Lakers window is the location and popularity of the team. If you are rich there is no better place in the world to be than Los Angeles. The Lakers have the largest fan base of any team in the NBA. To be a successful retired Laker provides much more financial opportunity than being a retired member of the Jazz or Suns. Therefore, the Lakers will usually be a top destination for players who are only going to make the mid-level exception. They also have their pick of the litter when it comes to the buyout market, which teams use to augment weaknesses up going into the playoffs. Getting the very best of the mid-level exception and buyout market extends the Lakers window and allows it to overcome mistakes that other franchises cannot.
The Lakers will probably use younger resources to stock up now. Young scorer Talen Horton Tucker will be combined with draft picks and maybe Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell Pope to add a more consistent contributor. Dennis Schroeder also poses a dilemma for LA. He wants way more than he is worth but because of the Bird Rights dilemma, the team can either lose him for nothing or overpay and go over the cap to try and trade him. However, the more they pay him the less attractive he will be to potential trade partners. How the Lakers approach the Schroeder dilemma will be a fascinating subplot this offseason.
While the franchise seems limited in its ability to upgrade the team, you cannot discount how much that a player wanting to be in Los Angeles helps the team. An example, Spencer Dinwiddie, who declined his player option from the Brooklyn Nets to explore the market and is said to be interested in LA. If teams know that Dinwiddie is only interested in being in LA it will depress the market for Dinwiddie and allow the Lakers or Clippers to essentially name their price for him.
Right now the Lakers’ championship window is at least 3 years, assuming Anthony Davis stays healthy. LeBron will be looking to play with his son. Will he leave if the Lakers are not able to draft him? If he leaves, will the Lakers be able to acquire another superstar to pair with Anthony Davis? I believe they will be able to add another superstar. The question is will AD be healthy enough to attract a co-star? Where LeBron will go when his son is drafted and AD’s health are both in question, but we can be fairly certain that for the next 3 years the Lakers will be properly listed as top championship contenders by online betting sites.