The end of these Los Angeles Lakers?

Four games from the end of the regular season and then the start of the NBA basketball playoffs, the Los Angeles Lakers of LeBron James, two years ago champions, are close to elimination. After the last defeat suffered Sunday against Denver – the sixth in a row – they should recover more than one victory at the San Antonio Spurs, currently tenth and therefore virtually qualified for the play-in, the single-game play-offs that guarantee the last two places in the playoffs.

Although they still have some small hope of making it, the skepticism is evident and after the latest defeats it is also noticeable in the players themselves. Anthony Davis, the center who together with James is the most symbolic and important player of the team, seemed resigned on Sunday: “We put together this team that seemed strong on paper, but we never had the chance to reach our potential with everyone. these injuries. The most frustrating part of this season is never having known our potential ».

Davis’s situation sums up a bit that of the whole team. Together with James she is the backbone of him, the symbol of ambitions and his competitiveness. Eight years younger than the four-time NBA champion, in management plans he should have been his alter ego and successor to him, but he has always been quite prone to injuries and this season has been the most absent player of the Lakers. His signing in 2019 was decisive in the title won in the Orlando “bubble”, but it weighed heavily both economically (it will take at least 189 million dollars in five years) and on the future of the team, which for him gave up two promising players like Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, as well as three top picks in subsequent drafts.

Anthony Davis in defeat to Denver Nuggets (Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images)

From the title won in 2020, the Lakers have often renewed themselves but have failed to take a real direction. Among the things that management tried to solve, the main one concerned LeBron James, whose mere presence still continues to raise the bar. James, however, is 37 years old and has been stopped for some time by increasingly frequent physical problems. To maintain its centrality in the decisive moments of the season, last summer the Lakers had thought of signing Russell Westbrook from Washington, a player (born and raised in Los Angeles) able to contribute on several fronts at the highest levels, but sometimes also chaotic , fluctuating and not so effective in some situations, on all defensive ones.

Also for these reasons, Westbrook at the Lakers is not working as expected and more than a help to James often proved to be an obstacle: some of his personal actions ended in mistakes under the eyes of James, ignored in other areas of the field, have become quite emblematic throughout the season. To get him, the Lakers had also given Washington three players widely used in recent seasons: Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, champions in 2020, and Montrezl Harrell.

In the summer the team also deprived itself of two other 2020 champions, Markieff Morris and above all Alex Caruso, an all-rounder not one of the most physically fit, but very reliable and gifted with a marked tactical intelligence. Not surprisingly, Caruso went to the Chicago Bulls, who with a renewed team are having their best season in several years now.

In their place, many experienced players with a certain reputation have arrived (or returned), such as Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, DeAndre Jordan and Trevor Ariza, who however have contributed little to the efficiency of the team and its cohesion, the lack of which is was often evident on the pitch. With the others already in the group, they also made the Lakers the team with the highest average age in the league: 30 years, against 26 on average for all thirty teams.

If the team built in the summer and then adjusted over the course of the season has shown more than one flaw in its composition, the advanced average age has contributed to lowering performances in the crucial phase of the regular season, with injuries. James, currently injured, has missed 20 games; Davis has skipped 39 and is playing not fully healed yet; Ariza (36), hired for his defensive contribution, did not help much, as he did not actually show up for half the season. As if that weren’t enough, injuries have stopped even the youngest. Kendrick Nunn, for example, one of the best rookies two seasons ago, at 26 was supposed to give the group a boost, but at the beginning of the year he got injured and hasn’t played since.

The Lakers’ second negative season so far says 31 wins and 47 losses in 78 games. Even if they manage to snatch a place in the play-ins in the next four games against Phoenix, Golden State, Oklahoma and Denver, it is difficult to think that they can then continue into the finals of the championship. In the meantime, doubts about the future of the group, between age and injuries, are increasingly insistent, as well as those about the positions of the coach, Frank Vogel, who often blamed himself for not being able to organize the team better, and the general manager Rob Pelinka, the main figure behind the strategies undertaken in recent years.

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