Winning back-to-back NBA championships is an incredibly difficult feat to accomplish, so the Los Angeles Lakers knew they had a massive challenge ahead of them prior to the 2020-21 season. However, they probably didn’t realize just how tough of a road it would be, as injuries to their two superstars — Anthony Davis and LeBron James — led to a disappointing campaign.
The Lakers’ run at a second title ultimately came to an abrupt end in a first-round NBA playoff loss to the Phoenix Suns, and after seeing Davis’ health play a significant role in that loss, ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith decided to put the big man on notice. In fact, he questioned whether the Lakers can actually rely on him to ever win another NBA title in the James-Davis era.
Anthony Davis’ injury led to the Lakers’ first-round loss
The Lakers were one of the hottest teams in the NBA at the start of the year, as they jumped out to a 21-6 record.
However, James eventually missed 27 games, and Davis missed 36, which led to the team plummeting in the Western Conference standings. LA finished the season 42-30 and as the conference’s seventh seed.
The Lakers’ struggles without their two superstars resulted in the team facing the two-seeded Phoenix Suns in the first round of the playoffs, but with a healthy James and Davis, LA jump out to a 2-1 series lead.
Then, the injury bug bit them again.
In Game 4, Davis suffered a strained groin and didn’t play in the second half, which led to a Lakers’ 100-92 loss. He then didn’t play in Game 5, and the Lakers lost again, 115-85, before he finally got cleared to play for the win-or-go-home Game 6.
During the first quarter of that must-win Game 6, though, Davis ultimately aggravated his injury and had to leave the court again. The Lakers then lost 113-100.
Their season is now officially over.
Stephen A. Smith put the ‘relatively frail’ AD on notice
Many people believe that the Lakers could have gone much deeper in the playoffs had Davis been healthy throughout the series against the Suns. However, Smith now questions if LA can even win another title in the James-Davis era.
“LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers are not winning another championship in the LeBron James-Anthony Davis era, in my opinion,” Smith said on the June 4 episode of Get Up.
While the ESPN commentator noted the several strong teams that could get in the Lakers’ way of winning another title, he also listed Davis’ injury history as a significant reason for why they may not win it all again.
“I certainly don’t blame [LeBron] for what transpired in this series against the Phoenix Suns; it was about the durability of Anthony Davis,” Smith said. “… Let me put Anthony Davis on notice right now: When healthy, you are one of the top five players on the planet. No one with basketball sense would question the greatness of Anthony Davis as a player. … The problem is his availability; he has not always been available. He certainly wasn’t available the last three games of this series.”
Smith continued: “The bottom line is, can you rely on a relatively frail Anthony Davis to be that dependable, reliable presence for you? The answer would be no. And if you can’t rely on him, that means you have to rely on LeBron, who will be 37 years of age, entering his 19th season in the NBA. And you think that’s gonna knock off these young lions that are coming? I don’t think so. The Lakers’ best chance to get another title in LA in the LeBron James era was this season. It didn’t happen. I think it’s over.”
Is Anthony Davis really unreliable?
Smith didn’t hold back when discussing his thoughts on Davis and the Lakers. So, is he right?
He certainly has a point.
Davis has never played in 82 games in his career, and the most he has played in throughout a season is 75. He has also appeared in fewer than 70 games in six of his eight seasons in the NBA (not including the COVID-19 shortened 2019-20 campaign). Availability has always been an issue for the big man, and, with him playing in the fewest games of his career in 2020-21, it was at its worst this season.
We all know how talented Davis is; he proved that during the Lakers’ 2020 playoff run. Given that James isn’t getting any younger, though, the Lakers will need to rely on Davis even more moving forward, and, with all the games he has missed in the past, that doesn’t appear to be a strong strategy.
Maybe, Smith is wrong. Maybe, Davis can stay healthy and can lead the Lakers to another title. Looking at his history, though, it’s hard to see him being the No. 1 option on a championship team.
The Lakers’ championship window might be closed.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference