Los Angeles Lakers

Fact or Fiction: Questioning if the 2021-22 Los Angeles Lakers are title contenders

For a third straight offseason since signing LeBron James as a free agent, the Los Angeles Lakers have been one of the busiest teams in the offseason.

While their transactions and activity paid dividends in the shape of the 2020 NBA championship, however, they were 2020-21 season ended in the first round of the playoffs. How will their 2021-22 season pan out?

MORE: Lakers' depth chart for 2021-22 | Is age the biggest concern for the Lakers?

Only time will tell but there are plenty of intriguing storylines surrounding the illustrious purple-and-gold franchise.

With still plenty of time to go before the season tips off, our NBA.com Staff plays a game of "Fact or Fiction" for the star-studded title-contending Los Angeles Lakers.

Age is the biggest hurdle the Lakers need to overcome

Yash Matange (@yashmatange2694): Fact. There's an argument to be made that with age comes experience which counts for the most when it matters - the NBA playoffs. However, with age also come injuries that could slide the Lakers from a legitimate title contender to a playoff guarantee given the age of the rest of the rotation players.

Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles): Fiction. Gil and I talked about this quite a bit already, but I'm pretty optimistic about the team's eight-man rotation. That's not to say age isn't a concern - they are the oldest team in the league by far after all - but it's not my greatest concern.

Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_): Fiction. I would say fluidity and continuity are the biggest hurdles the Lakers need to overcome. I'm not so worried about the age of the players, I'm more worried about how the new pieces are going to fit alongside each other.

Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21): Fiction. I think the biggest hurdle is getting so many new players on the same page, which, I honestly think might be helped by having veterans around and being an older team.

The West is the Lakers' to lose

Matange: Fact. With injuries forcing Kawhi Leonard, Jamal Murray and Klay Thompson to miss most of the 2021-22 season, it significantly reduces the number of contenders the Lakers have to battle. The only couple of teams that don't have too many serious injury concerns and could stage a fight are the Utah Jazz and the reigning West champs in the Phoenix Suns.

And if healthy, I believe, both those teams are opponents the Lakers can overcome with their talent depth.

Rafferty: Fact. I'm on the same page as Yash. No disrespect to the likes of the Suns, Jazz, Clippers and Warriors, but the Lakers enter the season with the best chance to emerge from the West in my eyes. A lot could obviously change between now and then, which is why we all love the NBA, but it's still hard to bet against a healthy LeBron and AD.

Irving: Fiction. The West is still the Suns' to lose. They're the reigning conference champions and didn't get any worse, how would it be anything other than theirs to lose?

McGregor: Fact. Los Angeles was coming off of a short offseason and still managed to look great until injuries derailed them. Respect is due to Phoenix, but the Lakers' moves this offseason plus a health duo of LeBron and AD make them my favourite.

The Lakers will continue their defensive dominance

Matange: Fiction. It's no mystery that Frank Vogel is all about the defensive end. Outside of his Orlando Magic days, he's never had a team he's coached outside the top eight on defence.

Given that the Lakers have six of the 11 oldest players in the league, all of whom are set to be rotation players for the team, I don't believe the Lakers can repeat their performance from the 2020-21 season and be the best defensive team in the league.

Rafferty: Fact. The Lakers had the No. 1 ranked defence in the NBA last season despite LeBron and AD being in and out of the lineup. While they're highly unlikely to finish that high again given the amount of turnover they've had, they should still have a top 10 defence ... right? Especially if AD has a bounce-back season, which I think he will. It's easy to forget that he was our favourite for DPOY entering last season.

Irving: Fact. As Scott mentioned, even through injuries, the Lakers still had the best defence in the league last season. I know they lost some key pieces that helped contribute to that, and some of the pieces they brought in aren't exactly defensive juggernauts, but I still have faith in Vogel to put the team in the best position to be successful on that end of the floor. Will they be the top-ranked defence again? Maybe not. But they'll still rank in the top 10.

McGregor: Fact. It can get overlooked when you focus solely on age, but the thing about most veteran players is that they are able to stick around in the league because they're smart players, thanks in large part to the knowledge they acquire over the years. Where older players lack in athleticism and ability, they make up in team defensive skills and the savvy that allows them to correctly play angles and perfectly execute defensive schemes. Oh, and they've got AD on the backline as a defensive anchor, that helps a lot.

LeBron James can get back to an MVP level

Matange: Fact. Difficult to make an argument here against James rebounding to his former self. With the Lakers' early exit in the 2021 playoffs, he's had plenty of time to rest up and recuperate, and we all know what he did in the 2020 restart after nearly four months off. Will he win the MVP? There are a lot of factors that will determine that I am positive, the King could return to an MVP level, on both ends of the floor, that we are more familiar with.

Rafferty: Getting back to an MVP level is different from actually winning MVP, so fact. LeBron is still one of the best players in the NBA and he was among the front-runners for MVP in 2020-21 before an ankle injury derailed his season. I'd like to think the Lakers are going to have the long game in mind, which will probably mean more rest and fewer responsibilities during the regular season - a combination you'd think would prevent him from winning the award - but we're still talking about someone who can put up 25-7-7 in his sleep. Even at this stage of his career, a healthy LeBron is still an MVP calibre of player.

Irving: Fact. I'm going to go a step further than Scott, though, and take this as saying LeBron can legitimately win MVP, even at age 36 next season. As he said, James was the front-runner for MVP for a portion of last season before getting hurt. Even though he may rest some games here and there to preserve his body for the playoffs, I believe he'll still play in enough games to be in consideration for the award. Playing next to Westbrook may make winning an individual award like MVP challenging, but I can't doubt LeBron.

McGregor: Fact. LeBron was the frontrunner to win MVP last season before his ankle injury, so getting back to an MVP level is as simple as his getting healthy. After a long offseason, the 36-year-old should be fresh and ready to pick up from where he was before he went down. At this point, I know much better than to count LeBron out.

Anthony Davis is the Lakers' most important player

Matange: Fiction. It's LeBron James for me. Davis is certainly the youngest and most influential of the Lakers' superstars. When fit, there's no debating his impact as the team's leading threat on both ends of the floor. However, the team's on-off numbers with him while James has been on the bench haven't been great. Maybe that changes this season but I believe, the playmaking and leadership of James and Rondo can get Davis going.

Rafferty: Fact. Davis had a down year by his standard in 2020-21, largely because of injuries. We saw how important he is to this team on both ends in their title run in 2020. Given the age and fit concerns that this team has, Davis getting back to that level would fill in a lot of gaps. Him playing more center than he did last season is perhaps the most important component.

Irving: Fact. While LeBron and Westbrook take a lot of pressure and workload off of Davis' shoulders, he is still the most important piece because of the way he elevates the team defensively. If Davis can't stay healthy, I would have serious concerns about the Lakers retaining a spot as one of the best defences in the league. And if they're not one of the best defences in the league, this team may struggle to be consistent.

McGregor: Fact. Not only does Davis elevate this team defensively, but he also sets the tone when he's locked in and aggressive on the offensive end. Watching the Lakers these past two seasons, it always feels like the team is fired up when they see that look of aggression in AD's eye, and being more consistent in that regard can allow him to succeed LeBron as the franchise guy. That is, if LeBron ever slows down.

Russell Westbrook will thrive next to LeBron and AD

Matange: Fiction. I have my reservations about this one. When the Lakers won the title with the roster build around James and Davis, they had two guards that were primarily 3-and-D, which allowed the ball to be focused around the superstar duo. Westbrook's addition to the squad does complicate factors in this respect - as is the case for every super-team - the three superstars will have to learn to balance ball-handling and play-making duties. And in such a scenario, I'm unsure about Westbrook's effectiveness off the ball as a shooter.

Rafferty: Fiction. I think the three of them will be fine during the regular season - Westbrook is better equipped to take some of the playmaking load off of LeBron and lead non-LeBron lineups than Dennis Schroder was - but they could run into some issues in the playoffs because we know how teams are going to defend Westbrook. They're going to help way off of him to clog the paint for LeBron and AD, two players who are at their best when they're playing in space. Westbrook being more active off-ball and Davis playing center when it matters the most would go a long way in fixing those issues, but it still wouldn't make for the most seamless of fits.

Irving: Fact. I don't have many doubts about his fit next to Davis, because AD doesn't need to demand the ball to be great anyway. And it may take some time, but I really believe Westbrook will adapt and make the most of playing alongside LeBron. Those two players are too talented to fail next to each other and I think it will make for an interesting dynamic, given the many ways both Westbrook and LeBron can impact the game. It will be like a two-playmaker set where no matter which player has the ball in their hands, the defence has to be terrified of how they can make everyone around them better.

McGregor: Fiction. If by "thrive" we mean average another triple-double and dominate at times like he did in Washington, I just don't see it. Don't get me wrong, Westbrook is still one of the league's most talented and electrifying players - as last year would indicate - but I think the fit is far too complicated for him to thrive to that level. The focus should be making it work, which I believe will include Westbrook taking a step back. It'll result in winning, but it might not necessarily look like thriving.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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