The Lakers title hopes face three challenges: surviving a coronavirus forced suspension of the season, surviving an untested bubble in the epicenter of a pandemic, and then winning an NBA championship with a depleted squad.
After comfortably beating the Bucks and Clippers in a weekend sweep that catapulted them to the top of the league power rankings, the Lakers seemed poised to roll through the playoffs and win their 17th NBA championship. But that was a ‘then’ rudely replaced with a ‘now’ dominated by a growing pandemic, cratering economy, and protests of racial injustice forcing the league and players to seriously question whether to resume the season.
That confluence of events has already led Davis Bertans, Trevor Ariza, and Avery Bradley to decide not to join their teammates in Orlando. By the end of the day, others players like Dwight Howard may also decide not to play. Meanwhile, teams and players are complaining the bubble is too limited or too restrictive, worrying about getting injured or catching Covid-19, and questioning the optics of a bunch of black NBA players locked in a bubble.
Let’s look at the first challenge the Lakers must survive to win their 17th championship. Could rising numbers of new Covid-19 cases in Florida or players testing positive derail plans to resume the season and playoffs? While that’s possible, the financial repercussions for the league and the players would be disastrous. The networks would cancel all TV contracts, the NBA would void the CBA, and both sides would lose billions.
While conditions could worsen over the next two weeks, the realistic chances the NBA will cancel their current plans to resume the season are slim and none. We may see changes but there’s too much at stake to cancel. The league is counting on the bubble to protect the players from contracting the virus and testing to enable them to control its spread. Even players who have tested positive like Nikola Jokic should have time to recover and play.
As for complaints about the bubble, the league still has a couple of weeks to work with the players and Disney World workers to resolve their concerns. Expect an expanded bubble to protect more players, workers, and families. The stakes are so high the league will spend whatever it needs to satisfy all of stakeholders necessary for the resumption of the season and the playoffs to happen. The adverse impact of cancelling the season will demand it.
Once the challenges of coronavirus and the bubble have been resolve, the Lakers will get their opportunity to win their 17th championship, though without guard Avery Bradley and maybe even center Dwight Howard. While Bradley and Howard were integral contributors during the regular season, the Lakers have able guard replacements for Avery and already plan for Anthony Davis to play increased minutes at center going forward.
So while the Lakers would certainly have preferred to have Bradley on the roster, his or Dwight Howard’s absence would not be enough to prevent the Lakers from reaching their goal and winning their 17th NBA championship.