How good will the Lakers be in Year 1 of the LeBron James era? How will he mesh with his new cast of teammates? Here's a quick look into the top things to know ahead of the Lakers in 2018-19.
2017-18 season record
35-47 (11th in the Western Conference)
Projected 2018-19 season record
48.5 wins (No. 4 seed in the Western Conference)
Michael Beasley (free agency)
LeBron James (free agency)
JaVale McGee (free agency)
Rajon Rondo (free agency)
Lance Stephenson (free agency)
Moritz Wagner (No. 25 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft)
Brook Lopez (free agency)
Julius Randle (free agency)
Isaiah Thomas (free agency)
3 key storylines
The start to LeBron's legacy as a Laker
LeBron said on media day that "nothing" creates pressure for him at this stage in his career, but all eyes will be on him this season.
A team that won just 35 games last year is now projected to win 48 games, placing them fourth in the loaded Western Conference. Any team that James joins immediately adds a championship into the expectations. While this is the first of a four-year deal, his legacy as a Laker-great will be judged from Game 1.
With a young core and a bench filled with experience, LeBron will be expected to win throughout the duration of his contract and anything less will not suffice for the franchise and fan base.
Young talent continues to improve
The Lakers' young core of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma showed a lot of promise despite only winning 35 games last season.
Kuzma's 16.1 points and 6.3 rebounds per game earned the late first-round pick a surprising fourth place in the Rookie of the Year voting and an All-Rookie First Team selection. Ball's shooting percentages weren't great through his 52 games played, but he still found a way to average 10.2 points, 7.2 assists and nearly seven rebounds a game on his way to an All-Rookie Second Team selection.
Ingram progressed mightily from his rookie season, improving in nearly every statistical category. Most important? His field goal percentage increased from 40.2 his first year to 47 last year and his 3-point percentage jumped from 29.4 to 39.
Add that second-year player Josh Hart showed extreme improvement in winning the Summer League's Most Valuable Player and you have a terrific young group of guys to surround LeBron.
Scary hours. #LakeShow pic.twitter.com/px8kTHIjbx- Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) September 24, 2018
The veterans filling their role
Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee, Michael Beasley and Rajon Rondo are four players that were brought in to help the Lakers win games and develop the roster's young talent. This is a core that adds 40 seasons of NBA experience and over 200 playoff games, with Rondo and McGee adding championships to the résumé as well.
Playing with LeBron adds an increased spotlight and higher expectations, and these four guys are prepared for that and could not care less about how they are viewed in the media.
On media day, LeBron nicknamed this group of role players "MUD": Misunderstood, Under-appreciated and Determined. At some point in their career, they've all been criticized for their actions on and off the court and in the locker room, but if they fill their roles in Los Angeles, it will make them the perfect group to help this Lakers team.
Introducing ... MUD. #NBAMediaDay pic.twitter.com/CQUU1ym5Gr- NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) September 24, 2018
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5 games to watch
Oct. 20 vs. Houston Rockets
This is LeBron's STAPLES Center regular season debut. All eyes will be on this game as it's the first Saturday night of the NBA season, on national television, against last year's first place team in the Western Conference.
2018's Most Valuable Player James Harden and star guard Chris Paul will try to prove that Houston still remains the biggest threat to the Golden State Warriors, while James and company will look to show that they have what it takes to compete with the best of the West.
Nov. 21 at Cleveland Cavaliers
This is LeBron's first game back in Cleveland since signing with the Lakers this offseason. This homecoming event should be a lot easier than the King's first return to Cleveland after signing with the Miami Heat back in 2010. While that was a night full of boos, you can expect this one to be more full of cheers and praise for what LeBron did over the past four seasons with the Cavaliers.
Dec. 25 at Golden State Warriors
LeBron versus the Warriors has become a staple on the NBA Christmas Day schedule. This one will have increased attention because it's the first matchup between these teams this season. Normally played as a rematch of the NBA Finals, this will now have a Pacific Division and Western Conference-rivalry vibe to it as the Lakers get their first crack at the back-to-back NBA champions.
This is the first of four games between Golden State and Los Angeles this season.
Jan. 2 vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
At this point of the season the playoff picture should begin to take shape, so this matchup should give you an idea of how good these teams really are. Lonzo Ball will have his hands full trying to stop Russell Westbrook, with LeBron and Paul George going at it as two of the best forwards in today's game.
Feb. 7 at Boston Celtics
The Celtics-Lakers rivalry has been dormant since 2012, but it will be back in full swing this season. This is the first matchup between these two teams that are both loaded with young talent. This game's headlines go beyond the Celtics rivalry, including a LeBron-Kyrie head-to-head, Jayson Tatum being selected after Lonzo Ball and Rondo playing against the Celtics as a Laker, to name a few.
All NBA fans will have this one circled on their calendar to start the year.