The Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors have scarcely been simultaneous contenders despite both teams having recent runs at championship glory.
When the Lakers won their 17th championship less than 24 months ago, the Warriors were in basketball purgatory dealing with the after-effects of what many thought was the finale of their golden dynasty. Fast forward to a year and a half later, the Warriors not only managed to resurrect their hopes of contention, but also reach the crest of the NBA’s Everest once again, nabbing their seventh title in franchise history.
When the Warriors doubled-down on their championship infrastructure, the Lakers sold their depth for a “superstar,” only to spiral out of any possibility of championship contention.
The truth hurts, but the Lakers haven’t been viewed as a winning organization for the vast majority of the past decade. In sharp contrast with how the Lakers have managed their briefly winning ways, Golden State has set the blueprint for what it takes to build and sustain a championship dynasty.
Now, the only way for the purple and gold to reach the Warriors’ current level is to take a page or two from their playbook. Here’s what the Lakers can learn from the Warriors’ most recent title run:
Championships aren’t cheap
The biggest reason why the Warriors were able to sustain their dynasty in the first place is the ownership’s willingness to foot the requisite bill. The 2021-2022 Warriors were the most expensive team in NBA history, costing roughly $346 million in combined salary and luxury taxes. Coming off of a season where the franchise shelled out $200 million more than the average NBA team on player salaries, their expenses are only set to steepen next season. And yet ownership has again promised to pay for whatever the front office deems necessary to advance their championship chances.
Since team owner Joe Lacob took over, the Warriors have never penny-pinched their way to a title. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst can mock the Dubs’ “checkbook victories” all he wants, but there’s no denying that wealth will always be a determining factor when it comes to winning in sports.
If Jeanie Buss wants to maximize LeBron James’ last few years in the league, then she needs to follow Lacob’s example by going all out and funding the team in every way she can, even if that means going over the luxury tax to build a competitive roster. Because after all, is a team truly contending for a championship in good faith if they don’t pull all of their chips on the table?
There’s no point in crying over spilled milk, but one can still ponder on why the milk was spilled in the first place. The Lakers now find themselves without many valuable assets because of how they’ve handled them in the first place.
Before Russell Westbrook’s arrival, Rob Pelinka gave away draft picks in trades like he was distributing flyers in the mall. The consequence? Not having enough flexibility to dramatically improve the Lakers this offseason.
Meanwhile, the Warriors are currently enjoying the fruits of their sage asset management over the past several years. Losing Kevin Durant to the Nets obviously hurt, but convincing the superstar to take the sign-and-trade route to Brooklyn in order to acquire D’Angelo Russell (who was later traded for Andrew Wiggins and a first round pick) helped grease the wheels to earning this most recent championship.
The Warriors have also made good on their draft equity in sculpting a young core capable of complementing their current superstars now and potentially growing into a more central role in the franchise’s coming years. Not only did their commendable asset management lead them to another championship, but it also has helped them bridge their present and future. Unlike the Lakers, the Warriors have a future they can potentially build on.
Develop young talent
The unexpected growth of Jordan Poole and Garry Payton II (who both turned into key rotation pieces) was a big factor in why the Warriors won this championship. Golden State discovered and developed their G League talent for a much-needed shot of youth, scoring, and defense. In addition to the immediate contributions of Poole and GPII, the Dubs still have the growth of James Wiseman, Moses Moody, and Jonathan Kuminga to look forward to in the next coming years.
The way the Warriors have invested in their youth is something the Lakers might want to consider emulating. Los Angeles can start developing their three young prospects in Austin Reaves, Stanley Johnson, and Talen Horton-Tucker in addition to their latest draft selection in Max Christie as well as their new two-way contract signees.
Acquire players that fit the team’s identity
The Warriors’ motion offense is one of the most potent in league history, but as demonstrated in 2020-21, only excels with the proper personnel. This season, Golden State managed to recruit high-IQ wings who understood how to play within Steve Kerr’s system to great effect.
The Lakers, meanwhile, have undergone multiple roster turnovers over the past couple of years. Yes, that’s what happens with every LeBron James-centric team, but now that Darvin Ham is at the helm, it’s time to consider recruiting only the players who fit his coaching philosophy. That way, the Lakers will have some sort of stability and continuity that’s needed to develop a strong organizational identity and culture.
Pick a lane
If the Warriors have one goal in the next few years, it’s to maximize the last few years of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green’s collective prime. If they stay the course, they’re liable to gun for another ring or two before they are forced to reshuffle their roster. They didn’t give up their future to contend, but that’s because — clearly — they didn’t have to.
As for the Lakers, it seems like there’s still stuck between prioritizing the post-LeBron era or giving up their remaining picks to make the most out of James’ last potential year in Los Angeles. If the Lakers do end up holding on to their precious draft picks, then what’s the point of trying to extend James? Having bled themselves dry of most of their depth and future assets, the Lakers need to figure out if they want to contend now or later and go all-in on one, but not both.