On Saturday night, James Harden continued his historic MVP campaign by dropping 48 points for his 19th consecutive game of at least 30 points (the fourth-longest streak in NBA history) in a thrilling comeback OT win against the Lakers. The Lakers were enjoying a sizable lead for the majority of the game until Lonzo Ball went down with what looked like a serious ankle injury after a free throw line collision with James Ennis. He was carried off by teammates and appeared to be unable to put any weight on it; he was ultimately taken to a local hospital for x-rays that came back negative, but revealed a Grade 3 left ankle sprain that will keep Lonzo out of the lineup for 4-6 weeks. Rajon Rondo has already been sidelined with an injury, and Lonzo had been picking up a majority of his minutes and starting to really perform. Over his last 10 games, Zo has averaged 11.1 points, 6.1 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 1.5 steals, and 0.5 blocks on 40% shooting in 33 minutes of action a night. He still can't score, but he's doing everything else while being tasked with locking down premier guards on a nightly basis; the blueprint for greatness is still there and Lonzo is going to be silencing his doubters soon.
Lonzo's injury wouldn't have as big of an impact on the Lakers if another starter wasn't already sidelined: LeBron James. The (goat emoji) has been out with a groin injury he suffered on Christmas Day against the Warriors. It labeled as a 3-6 week injury, and as it approaches the one-month mark, there still aren't a lot of answers as to when LeBron will come back. It should be relatively soon, but the Lakers should keep him out for as long as he needs. LeBron's 34 and this is his first real "major" injury in 15 seasons because he's an absolute machine, so treating this injury with time will benefit him in the long-term. It would fucking suck to somehow make the best player ever injury prone in his first half-season with your franchise, but him, Lonzo, and Rondo being out might have the franchise at a bit of a crossroads.
The timing couldn't be worse for the Lakers to be missing three key players. They're currently out of the playoff picture sitting at 25-22 (9th in the West), but are only a half game back of the neighboring Clippers for the 8th seed. The disparity between the top and bottom of the West is starting to grow, and the Warriors are a solid 7.5 games ahead of LA for the first seed; they look to grow that lead tonight as the Warriors will take on the Lakers in LA. Tonight is going to be a battle for this Lakers team as the Warriors now have Boogie (holy fuck, the Lakers are screwed tonight), but the next two weeks is going to be a war. Over their next 10 games, they have to play the Warriors and Sixers twice, and also have matchups against Minnesota, Phoenix, Indiana, Boston, and the Clippers; only Minnesota and Phoenix have worse records than LA, and the Timberwolves may have a deeper roster (at the moment). A losing record over this stretch could prove detrimental to the Lakers' playoff hopes as every win is vital in an increasingly-competitive West. The good teams are starting to shape up, and the Lakers need to prove that they belong as legitimate contenders. Adding another star would be ideal, but they have to be resilient and not make a move out of fear of missing the playoffs. Kyle Kuzma may just fill that star role amid his teammates' absences; he dropped 20 in the first quarter against the Rockets (32 overall), and dropped 32 the game before against the Thunder to go along with a career-high seven threes. Kuzma is averaging 22.3 points per night over his last 10 and 19.3 on the season. He's a bonafide big time scorer and is perfect alongside LeBron and Lonzo; Rob Pelinka and Magic Johnson should easily prioritize him and consider moving Brandon Ingram over Kuzma in a potential trade.
Trade, a word synonymous with the Lakers this year. Rumored moves to get another superstar next to LeBron have started since before he was even on the team, and they've only ramped up as the seasons progressed. While now might seem like the right time to pull the trigger for a star like Bradley Beal or CJ McCollum, patience has to be key. By trading one (or more) of their young core members (Ball, Kuzma, Ingram, Hart) for anyone not named Anthony Davis, the Lakers would be gambling their potential long-term championship window for a win-now mentality. LeBron is under contract for (at least) two more seasons, and if they're in a similar situation next season still clambering for another star, then moving a young piece would make more sense. They should really hold out for an Anthony Davis trade in the offseason, and hopefully Brandon Ingram can play well as the second go-to scorer over the next 10 games and boost his trade value so the Lakers don't have to trade Kuzma and/or Ball to New Orleans.
Once LeBron returns, hopefully within the next two weeks, everything will be a lot calmer and the Lakers won't have to worry as much about missing the playoffs. LeBron has brought god-awful supporting casts to the Finals, I'm confident he can bring a pretty good Lakers team to the 6th or 7th seed in the West. The Lakers have had a pretty crazy season, but that's what happens when you have LeBron. The front office must remain resilient; plus I need a team to pull for the rest of the year since the Bulls sure as hell won't be hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy in June.