The Lakers' title quest is getting harder two months before it actually begins.The loss of Boogie Cousins and the front office's reported interest in retreads like Dwight Howard amplify questions about the Lakers' ability to survive the regular-season slog.
Last week, Lakers center DeMarcus Cousins tore his ACL after reportedly banging knees with another player during a workout in Las Vegas, making we wondering what the heck was going on.
Cousins--One of the most talented big men of any generation, has suddenly found himself caught in the consistent nightmare of surgery and rehab, during, under more ordinary circumstances, what ought to be the thick of his prime years. Instead, we're pondering the end.
And now, with an undermanned Lakers squad left to grind dust with the free agency millstone, it's fair to wonder what the team might look like now that their full-fledged fantasy has hit a roadblock.
The Lakers are reportedly mulling alternatives, though there are few options; they are capped out and have depleted their collection of assets after acquiring Anthony Davis. They'll be searching for this season's version of Tyson Chandler. Bygone defensive mavens like Dwight Howard and Joakim Noah have both been mentioned as possibilities.
More than anything, Cousins served as a buffer between the Lakers' 1 percent and the rest of the roster: Even in his diminishedform, he had inherentupside that just about every player on the roster not named LeBron or AD lacked.
Cousins has the ability to fulfill the primary tasks of three different positional archetypes (facilitate, score down low, shoot 3s); even if he could do only one of those three things consistently night to night, he'd still be immensely valuable to the Lakers. Without him, the Lakers are built, more or less, like LeBron's old Cavs.
To label oneself a center in the NBA is to engage in one of the league's most enduring oxymorons. It is both the game's most celebrated and most thankless position.
Davis has rejected the center label despite spending the bulk of his career at the position, and is probably right to continue that stance as a Laker, at least from an optics perspective. There's no need to amplify the pressure of living up to the city's standards by placing oneself in the lineage of George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Shaquille O'Neal.
Cousins's injury isn't going to ruin the Lakers' shot at a championship this season; even when the signing was reported last month, it seemed the best-case scenario for Cousins was Biggest Microwave in NBA History.
The Cousins news itself did not dip the Lakers into a state of crisis; the organization has been in a state of crisis for the past seven years. Things are a bit different now: The youth movement is over, and so are James's babysitting days.
Now, James is voluntarily ceding his throne to one of the five best players in the world, one who, when the games matter most, will inhabit the same space down in the paint that some of the biggest Lakers luminaries have over decades—whether he likes it or not.
That duo should be enough to rise to the contending level. But the margin for error is still thin, and it just got slimmer. The Lakers got their dream pairing two months ago; the question today and in the coming weeks and months remains the same: Just how long will they hold up, and do they have the proper reinforcements should things break wrong?