Lakers Considered Play-in Tournament Team in 2022-23

Lakers stars LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook

Getty Lakers stars LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook

The 2021-22 season was a tough one for the Los Angeles Lakers. They finished in 11th place in the Western Conference standings and didn’t make the play-in tournament despite having LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook.

Frank Vogel took the biggest bullet for the Lakers’ disastrous season. He was fired as head coach on April 11, the same day Los Angeles players conducted their exit interviews with the media. After interviewing multiple candidates, the purple and gold hired Darvin Ham to replace Vogel, who led the franchise to the 2020 championship in his first season at the helm.

James, Davis and Westbrook are expected to be back on the Lakers next season. In a June 17 column titled, “Way-too-soon 2022-23 NBA Power Rankings,” Bleacher Report’s Andy Bailey projected that Los Angeles would finish as the 15th-best team in the NBA and qualify for the play-in tournament.

“If all three are in purple and gold again, L.A. will need more reliable shooters (it was 21st in threes per 100 possessions and 22nd in three-point percentage last season). But the Lakers don’t have the cap space to go hunting for that in free agency,” Bailey wrote. “The best they can do is a $6.4 million taxpayer mid-level exception. That may be enough to lure someone to the bright lights of L.A., but it might not land the kind of difference-maker that the Lakers need.”

Bailey has the Golden State Warriors, Memphis Grizzlies, Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Clippers, Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns, Minnesota Timberwolves, New Orleans Pelicans and Utah Jazz finishing ahead of the Lakers in the West. The top six seeds automatically qualify for the playoffs, while the seventh, eighth, ninth and 10th seeds make the play-in tournament.

Bailey predicts that the Lakers will finish in 10th place in the Western Conference.


Lakers Can’t Really Make Any Drastic Changes

The salaries of James ($44.5 million), Davis ($38.0 million) and Westbrook ($47.1 million) will likely make it difficult for the Lakers’ front office to overhaul the roster. Trading Westbrook is the best way for Los Angeles to get shooters and defenders around LBJ and AD.

However, according to Marc Stein of Substack, teams are asking the Lakers to give up additional assets to trade Westbrook and the purple and gold have no interest in doing that.

“The Lakers are tuning out the skeptics yet again and insisting to anyone who will listen that they would rather keep Russell Westbrook on the roster for next season than surrender additional assets to convince someone to trade for him,” Stein reported in May. “The Lakers are also said to be adamant that they won’t release the former MVP and eat his $47.1 million player option for next season after Westbrook picks it up.”

James, Davis, Talen Horton-Tucker and Austin Reaves (non-guaranteed) are the lone players under contract with the Lakers next season. Westbrook has a player option worth $47.1 million and he’s anticipated to pick it up.

Eight players from the 2021-22 team will enter unrestricted free agency this summer. They are Avery Bradley, Wayne Ellington, Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony, Kent Bazemore, Malik Monk, Wenyen Gabriel and D.J. Augustin.


Lakers Have to Bank on Ham Being the Ex-Factor

The Lakers pretty much have to bank on Ham being the ex-factor next season since the roster won’t change too much. During his introductory press conference on June 6, Ham said providing consistent coaching will be key to taking command of the locker room.

“My goal is continue with the development of our younger players and make those guys comfortable where they’re not having to run to a telephone booth and put a cape on and try to save the day,” Ham said. “And if there’s mistakes made, I have to be able to coach those three guys like I do the rest of the roster.

“We have a saying, ‘Facts over feelings.’ And once you see the film, that’s a fact. You missed your assignment, then that has to be pointed out. Because if I can’t point it out to one of our Big Three, then the last man or someone in the rotation, they’re not going to take what we’re doing seriously.”

James, who averaged 30.3 points, 8.2 rebounds and 6.2 assists in 2021-22, is eligible for a two-year, $97 million extension on August 4. He becomes an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2023 if he plays out his present contract.

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