As the Lakers pass the mid-point of the 2018/19 NBA season, it seems that we have experienced it all so far. From fist fights, suspensions, injuries, to dips in and out of form.
Early on there was a great sense of optimism, despite a slow start to the season and some rocky road trips, the Lakers raced out to a 20-14 record by Christmas, after a memorable victory against the two-time defending champions, the Golden State Warriors. Since then injuries to LeBron James and Rajon Rondo have disrupted the progress of the team. Seeing JaVale McGee, Michael Beasley and Kyle Kuzma in and out of the team hasn’t helped matters too, but losses against the LA Clippers, New York Knicks, Minnesota Timberwolves, and Utah Jazz have been painful, to say the least.
Form at the end of December, early January saw a LeBron-less Lakers team go 1-5, which has divided opinion between fans on the short-term direction of the franchise, especially in regards to the young core. Results have slightly improved as of late though, with dominant wins against the Dallas Mavericks and Detroit Pistons.
With all of this occurring in-and-around the mid-point of the season, it makes for some interesting reading when gaining the opinion from some of the Lakers Fanclub UK members.
What are your thoughts on the Lakers’ season so far?
Phil: “Ask me that question a month ago and it would have been rather optimistic. The recent run however has me casting grave doubts as to how we are tracking. Right now I have to say that my score so far is C-“
Jamie: “We are currently in the playoffs as things stand and that was my minimum expectation for the season. I am quite happy with where we are at the moment. We have been as high as 4th but a top 8 finish would be a success in my eyes.”
Steve: “It looks like the Lakers will make the playoffs and that’s good news for a team that last played post-season basketball in 2013. Things looked even brighter when we were temporarily on the 4th place, ahead of the Clippers. Now it seems my early prediction wasn’t so far off when I picked the Lakers in the 7th or 8th seed.”
Timi: “It’s been an up and down season for sure. There’s lots to work on, and a lot of unanswered questions, but it’s been positive so far. This is the first year of a serious process, and I think we’ve come a long way.”
The team have quite obviously struggled without LeBron James in the team, what are you views on this?
Phil: “It is natural to miss arguably the greatest active player on the planet at this time. Coupled with Rajon and Kyle going down at same time is always going to have a bad effect. However the lack of effort at times and passion is somewhat concerning. Seeing the team fail so badly has set alarm bells ringing for me. Our inability to close out 4th quarters and terrible free throw % even before LeBron’s injury in my opinion points to weaknesses in coaching. “
Jamie: “The team have undoubtedly struggled without LeBron, as expected. Without him, I must admit I did expect the young core to step up more but they have been as inconsistent as they were last season apart from Kuzma who has been the real starring light for me. Ingram and Ball have been the biggest disappointment in my opinion and I’m not sure now if I would want them in the team moving forward.”
Steve: “First of all it shows what a great player LeBron James is, even in his 16th season. His impact on the team is huge, it was the same with last years Cavs team. I think the Lakers are even better without James compared to how the Cavs went in a similar situation. The recent struggles don’t bother me too much, as we also had to compensate for other missing players like Kuzma, Rondo and Beasley.”
Timi: “The way we’ve played in the 4th quarter without LeBron has been unacceptable, but we have had other injuries too. I think if Rondo had been around we wouldn’t have taken some of those loses, plus we had no Kuzma for some. This could be great for some of the young guys, with handling more responsibility.”
Without LeBron, we have seen the young core step forward, how do you think they’ve done?
Phil: “I am disappointed with how they have stepped up. I expect a lot more from anybody putting on the famous purple and gold jersey. Our history demands that and if the young core (with the exception of Kuzma) can’t show more desire then the door beckons.”
Steve: “LeBron‘s leadership is priceless and despite my previous concerns, he isn’t a roadblock for the young players, maybe with the exception of Brandon Ingram. Ingram played well against the Mavs but seems to have taken a step back otherwise. Ball and Hart played well against the Mavs too, but both – and most of all Lonzo – need to be more consistent overall. Zubac was the biggest surprise to me. He showed for three games that he really belongs to the NBA. I‘d like to see more of that.”
Timi: “Sometimes they step up, but as we saw against the Timberwolves, they can also fall apart. Like I said, this stretch will be good, as they will be able to show that it’s not just LeBron and the rest.”
Between now and February 7th, do you think there will be a trade?
Phil: “I would love to acquire Anthony Davis but I’m not sure how much we should give up to get him. But what an addition he would be.”
Jamie: “Magic and Pelinka are usually fairly active around the trade deadline but I don’t expect any big moves from us. The only move I can see is maybe KCP leaving and us replacing him with a pure shooter – someone like Terrence Ross or Wayne Ellington.”
Steve: “Yes, I think there will most likely be a trade. As the Wizards clear house and I wouldn’t be shocked to see Beal getting shipped out of town. I‘d gladly take him at the right price, because he would be a great fit. Other names like Terrence Ross or Wayne Ellington are in the mix too. Both would strengthen the team, but not cost us more than KCP and a 2nd round pick. There are also persistent rumors about an incoming Anthony Davis trade. That guy is a generational talent and would be a perfect addition. I‘m still not sure whether he gets traded or not.”
Timi: “Any trades we make now will be small scale I feel. Maybe a shooter. I think getting someone after a buyout is more likely, if one happens. In terms of that guy in New Orleans? Not this season”
What has been your favourite moment of the season so far?
Phil: “Signing Tyson Chandler. Bringing him off the bench to give JaVale a break means our defensive output stays solid.”
Jamie: “The Christmas day trouncing of the Warriors! When LeBron left the game injured and the Warriors pulled back to within 1, I feared the worse. But Rajon Rondo absolutely killed it from then on. His absence at the same time as LeBron’s has been bad for us.”
Steve: “For me, this is Tyson Chandler‘s game-saving block on Trae Young.”
Timi: “Favourite moment of the season was when Lonzo got his triple-double against the Hornets, after LeBron had already got one.”
What are your expectations for the rest of the season?
Phil: “Playoffs and perhaps get past the first round. However, if we get Anthony Davis, it’d be nice to roll a little further.”
Jamie: “Get everyone healthy and we can finish somewhere in the 4-8 playoff spots. I think with a full team we are more than a match for anyone over a 7 game series. Realistically I would take at least one playoff series win with the young core stepping up to support.”
Steve: “Unexpected wins, embarrassing losses and playoff basketball. I‘ll stick with my prediction, Lakers will get a the 7th or 8th seed. I still hope we‘ll make it to the second round, but have very little hope that we could win four out of seven against Denver or Golden State.”
Timi: “I think this Lakers team has a nice winning streak in them once LeBron returns fresh. I think that to have missed him for the stretch we have and still be the 8th seed is good, especially as we were in every game except 1. I think this team will end up in the 5th seed, where could they very well make some noise in the postseason”
That rounds up our mid-season review for the 2018/19 Los Angeles Lakers. Soon, I anticipate we will see LeBron James return with Rondo hopefully shortly after, then we can see what a healthy Lakers team is capable of.
By Matt Evans (@mattyyyevans)