Even nine years into his NBA career, Anthony Davis still is occasionally struck by how a childhood dream has played out.
The Lakers’ big man was scrolling through Instagram on the bus to the arena before a playoff game last season when he came across a post about how many postseason records his teammate LeBron James has. He sent a message to James drawing on nostalgia and remembering another bus trip he took from Chicago to Akron as a teenager to attend James’ camp.
“‘Seeing you for the first time, you’re such an inspiration to all of us, you might not know,’” Davis recalled writing on Sunday, sharing the message with reporters. “ ‘And it’s crazy how everything comes full circle to now we’re on the same team battling for a championship.’ ”
Davis, James and the Lakers won that championship. Now sporting the league’s best record early in the season, they’ve started to consider the next part of the dream: a dynasty.
It’s a natural consideration heading into a matchup with the Golden State Warriors on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. While Klay Thompson’s season-ending injury has taken some of the air out of the matchup, it still presents like a baton hand-off: The last NBA dynasty taking on the team that could be the next one.
“I don’t want to say we took over: The Warriors won three out of four or something like that, so we haven’t accomplished that yet,” Davis said. “But I think whoever the defending champions are kind of hold that standard that each team wants to become.”
For all the talk of the bullseye on their backs, the Lakers (11-3) have looked strong in their start, despite the disadvantage of a shorter offseason than any other team except Miami. They’re averaging an NBA-best 11-point margin in their games, and most tellingly they haven’t had to extend their stars to rack up wins: No one on the Lakers is averaging more than 32 minutes per game.
It’s not just this year that the Lakers expect to be in contention: Almost every meaningful player is under a multi-year contract. Davis has the longest deal through 2025, but James and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are up through 2023, and Kyle Kuzma is through 2024. Montrezl Harrell and Marc Gasol can stay with the Lakers through next season. The biggest question mark left is Dennis Schröder, who has expressed interest in signing an extension with the Lakers before he hits free agency this summer.
With so many key pieces locked up, it’s natural for the Lakers’ ambitions to have a longer runway. Kuzma said the team is focused on the goal of winning its second championship together, which would create the foundation for a special era. This group of nine returners now knows how tough it is to win one title — Kuzma cited the Spurs’ run under Gregg Popovich as inspiration.
“We’re trying to get to that plateau and peak to continue to win championships — a tough, lofty goal, but I think that’s what we all put out to do,” he said. “Seeing guys sign contracts, be a part of a championship window and just try to make it happen. We have such a small time in the NBA and even smaller of a window, when we talk about dynasties, to make it really happen.”
The Warriors find themselves scrapping at 6-6 after an injury plagued 2019-20 season that left them with the worst record in the NBA. Thompson’s latest setback seemingly has cut off their opportunity to compete for another championship this year, but Steph Curry is still one of the league’s best scorers, ranking third with 28.4 ppg as of Sunday afternoon.
Golden State coach Steve Kerr said going to the finals for five straight years was difficult to manage by the end, when long seasons and mounting expectations started to soak into his group. He sees the Lakers in an idyllic part of their adolescence of a dynasty when they’re still atop the world: For the Warriors, that translated to a record-setting 73 wins in their second season after they won their first of three titles.
“They have the confidence that comes with winning a championship, and they don’t have the fatigue that comes with winning multiple championships,” Kerr said. “This is really a sweet spot.”
The Lakers seem to recognize it, too. James went to four straight finals with both the Miami Heat and the Cleveland Cavaliers, which might help temper the group’s sense of invincibility. Kuzma and Davis both seemed to play down that the Lakers already are in the midst of a dynasty, but acknowledged they have the chance to create one.
Davis thinks a lot about the day he sent James that message, and how much anxiety he felt coming into the locker room worried that his teammate would make fun of him for being “soft.” But James said nothing until after the game itself, when he offered a similar sentiment, Davis said.
“It’s a pretty cool moment to be able to play alongside one of the guys that you looked up to,” Davis said. “Especially now for the next couple of years.”
Contributed by local news sources