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LeBron James still thinks Lakers can contend in loaded West

LeBron James Lakers
LeBron James thinks the Los Angeles Lakers can still contend in the West, even if the odds stack up against them. (Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)

LeBron James still thinks Lakers can contend in loaded West

The Los Angeles Lakers have either missed the playoffs entirely or made the play-in game in each of the last three seasons. They miraculously advanced to the Western Conference Finals as a No. 7 seed in 2022-23, but were promptly swept by the eventual champion Denver Nuggets.

They were also first-round exits in the COVID-shortened 2020-21 season, losing in six games to the Phoenix Suns. All in all, they haven’t had much success outside of winning the NBA Title inside the bubble in 2019-20, though LeBron James is still confident in the team’s chances to contend in a loaded Western Conference.

“We’ve done it before,” James recently told ESPN’s David McMenamin. “And we still have two guys who commit every single day with myself and [Anthony Davis]. We commit to excellence and commit to win. And we feel like any situation, any given year, we can put ourselves in a position to be able to succeed. And we’re not that far off.

“We were one year removed from the Western Conference finals. Obviously, this year it didn’t go as well this past year. Didn’t go as well as we would like, but we’re not that far off … we don’t see that we are that far off in the West.”

He is right, they have done it before. If any player can drag a poor roster into contention, it’s LeBron James. I respect the confidence, even though I think the odds stack up heavily against them.

The Lakers haven’t had a good offseason so far, being arguably the league’s most stagnant team. The biggest change was hiring head coach JJ Redick, who’s never had any coaching experience.

Dalton Knecht fell to them at No. 17 in the 2024 NBA Draft, but they followed by drafting Bronny James (LeBron’s son) No. 55 overall and signed him using a second-round exception after Rich Paul refused to sign a two-way.

James signed a two-year extension that was just short of the max, keeping the organization below the second apron. They haven’t been able to offload D’Angelo Russell‘s $18.7 million or swing any moves that included Rui Hachimura, Gabe Vincent or Jarred Vanderbilt–three of their bigger salary filler contracts.

They also signed Max Christie to a $32 million deal (over four years; he was a restricted free agent, but who were they really bidding against?

The Sacramento Kings, Oklahoma City Thunder, Dallas Mavericks and Golden State Warriors all improved on some level this offseason. The Memphis Grizzlies will also have Ja Morant back plus the Minnesota Timberwolves and Nuggets offer plenty of problems for the Lakers. The conference isn’t getting any worse, nor is James (or Davis) getting any younger.

I’m in a “never say never” state with LeBron James, but the odds don’t stack up in his favor. He and Davis both played 70-plus games, Russell played 66 and Austin Reaves played all 82 … and they finished as a No. 8 seed. They dealt with injuries elsewhere, but they’re going to need sustained injury luck to have a chance–in addition to myriad other factors.

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