The Los Angeles Lakers are just over a month removed from winning the NBA championship, and with the way the offseason has unfolded, it looks like they’ve won again as their chances of defending the title have seemingly improved significantly.
Not only have the Lakers made some fine moves to strengthen their squad ahead of their title defence, but their closest title challengers have been unable to close the gap on them, with some even taking some notable steps back.
Read on below as SBOTOP runs down all off the big offseason moves involving the top title contenders.
Lakers reload supporting cast
The Lakers already have the most important pieces to winning a championship: two superstars in LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Their main goal is to surround that dynamic duo with the right supporting cast.
They did so last season, which led to their 17th championship. And this offseason, they have arguably improved upon the team that went all the way to win the title.
First, they traded Danny Green for Dennis Schroder. Schroder averaged nearly 19 points for the Oklahoma City Thunder last season and will give the Lakers that reliable third scorer behind James and Davis that they lacked for most of last season.
Schroder will also make up for the fact that veteran point guard Rajon Rondo, who played such a crucial part in their title run, left in free agency to sign with the Atlanta Hawks. They also opted not to re-sign big man Dwight Howard.
Then, they landed reigning Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell from their city rivals, the Clippers, added veterans Wes Matthews and Marc Gasol, and re-signed Markieff Morris.
The additions of Schroder and Harrell will help relieve some of the offensive burden off of James’ and Davis’ shoulders, while Matthews and Gasol can still be capable contributors on the defensive end.
All in all, the Lakers did some impressive business which should see the NBA 2020 betting odds have them as the favourites for the title next season.
No West contenders significantly improve
While the defending champions likely got better, their main challengers in the Western Conference have been unable to make notable enhancements to their teams.
The Clippers essentially swapped Harrell for Serge Ibaka, which is a slight improvement, traded sharpshooter Landry Shamet for Luke Kennard, and nothing else. So barring any further moves, they will basically be hoping that better team chemistry in Year 2 with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George and the head coaching change from Doc Rivers to Tyronn Lue will deliver improved results.
Elsewhere, the Nuggets — who upset the Clippers in the playoffs but lost to the Lakers in the conference finals– likely took a step back after losing forward Jerami Grant in free agency. While Michael Porter Jr. is expected to take on a bigger role, Grant’s versatility and defence will be a big miss.
The Rockets essentially swapped Robert Covington for Christian Wood and still have their two superstars in Russell Westbrook and James Harden. But it remains to be seen just how long those two will be around after they’ve made it known that they want to be traded out of Houston.
And of course, the Warriors — who were expected to come back and challenge the two LA teams this season — are all but out of the running after Klay Thompson’s catastrophic Achilles injury.
The Phoenix Suns, who made major NBA 2020 news by trading for Chris Paul, and the Portland Trail Blazers, who acquired Covingtonm Derrick Jones Jr., and Enes Kanter, also made significant strides this offseason. But neither team figures to pose a serious challenge to the Lakers in the West.
Top East teams don’t take step up
Over in the Eastern Conference, the top contenders also failed to make moves that could see them overtake the Lakers.
The Milwaukee Bucks — under pressure to make big moves to convince MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo to re-sign — looked as though they had done so by trading for both Jrue Holiday and Bogdan Bogdanovic, but the deal for the latter fell through in disastrous circumstances.
They also lost a lot of depth and could only fill their bench with flawed players in Bobby Portis, DJ Augustin, Torrey Craig and Bryn Forbes, none of whom will make much of an impact in terms of their title chances.
The Miami Heat, who lost to the Lakers in the Finals, and the Toronto Raptors mostly stood pat this offseason in order to preserve their cap space next summer in case Giannis becomes available.
The Celtics lost forward Gordon Hayward, who became a free agent and signed a massive $120 million contract with the Charlotte Hornets. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia 76ers are still shaking things up under Daryl Morey, trading away Al Horford and Josh Richardson for Danny Green and Seth Curry.
Perhaps the only top East team that did well this offseason was the Brooklyn Nets, who re-signed Joe Harris, added another shooter in Shamet, and signed versatile veteran Jeff Green.
But there’s still too much uncertainty surrounding the combination Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to consider them serious challengers to the Lakers, who look like the big winners of the offseason based on how everything shook out.
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