The Los Angeles Lakers enter the All-Star break with the best record in the Western Conference, but it still feels like they’re not actually the best team. The Clippers have a loaded roster from top to bottom and only got better at the trade deadline while the Lakers stayed quiet. Though the purple and gold have won more games, the Clippers still feel like the favorite in the Western Conference.
That’s not to say the Lakers are a bad team in any way, it’s just to point out that they’re going to have a tough time dealing with their Los Angeles rivals. According to Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report, executives around the league aren’t buying them as legit contenders.
“There’s no way the Lakers beat the Clippers in a seven-game series,” an Eastern Conference executive said, per Pincus.
It may be a bit of stretch to say there’s “no way” the Lakers can beat the Clippers in the playoffs, but the odds are certainly stacking up against them. There were a couple of pieces the team could’ve added to give them the advantage, but the Lakers couldn’t make it happen.
Rajon Rondo Isn’t Darren Collison
The Lakers staying put at the trade deadline was a lot more digestible when it looked like Darren Collison was going to fall on their lap. Unfortunately for them, he decided to stay retired, leaving Los Angeles out of luck.
“That’s a blow,” a former general manager said. “I’m not sure the Lakers can find a better fit than Collison.”
Collison was exactly what the team needed in their second unit. He’s a strong ball-handler who can shoot. There likely isn’t a better option on the market. That leaves the team to rely on Rajon Rondo, who has been incredibly hit or miss all season.
“There’s a reason Rondo dominated the Suns: They weren’t guarding him,” the former general manager said. “Teams want him to shoot.”
People around the league aren’t buying that Rondo is going to help the Lakers come playoff time.
“He overdribbles,” said a Western Conference executive. “The team needs another guard who can handle but who can also play off of LeBron as a shooter. That’s not Rondo.”
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Who’s Going to Stop Kawhi Leonard?
Perhaps the biggest problem facing the Lakers is that they don’t have anybody who can matchup with Kawhi Leonard. While LeBron has proven to be a great defender at times, he’s going to have a hard time keeping up with Kawhi now that he’s 35-years old.
“Kawhi is too strong for Danny Green. [Kyle] Kuzma can’t do anything against him. We’ve seen what he does to KCP,” the former general manager said. “LeBron is really the Lakers’ best option defensively. They’re going to have to sacrifice in a series and put LeBron on Kawhi.”
It won’t be easy on LeBron if he does have to guard Kawhi, but the Lakers may not have a choice. Kawhi is arguably the best all-around player in the NBA and he hits another gear in the playoffs. The best they can do is try to contain him. The Lakers are a strong defensive team, so it may not be as impossible to slow down the Clippers as some executives suggest.
Don’t Count out the Lakers Yet
Regardless of the fact that the Lakers have flaws, they still have two of the five best players in the world on their roster. Anthony Davis and LeBron are capable of doing amazing things together and no amount of Clippers defense is going to be able to stop that consistently. Plus, the Lakers aren’t done adding players yet.
As Pincus points out in his piece, the team figures to look into a number of players. He pegged Maurice Harkless as an ideal fit as he has strong defensive capabilities and could offer insight on the Clippers. There’s also Tyler Johnson, J.R. Smith and much more who could be available for the team. There’s still a lot of time before the playoffs, so it would be foolish to count the Lakers out just yet.