Last week, LeBron James re-signed with the Los Angeles Lakers on a two-year deal, but can he guide the franchise to another title?
James joined the Lakers as an unrestricted free agent in 2018 after opting out of his contract with Cleveland Cavaliers. The team had expected his arrival to turn them into instant championship contenders but a groin injury derailed James' campaign and ultimately the Lakers season as they missed out on the playoffs for the fifth year in a row.
In the 2019 offseason the Lakers brought in Anthony Davis from New Orleans Pelicans and James switched into the point guard role for the campaign.
That move paid off, as they claimed top seed in the Western Conference and went on to win the championship - beating James' former team Miami Heat in six games in the NBA Finals.
James won his fourth championship and fourth Finals MVP award, becoming the only player in NBA history to win that award with three different teams.
That success could have been the start of a new period of dominance for the Lakers, or at least a spell where they continued to challenge, but injuries and unsuccessful trades have had a huge impact and they were knocked out in the first round by Phoenix Suns as defending champions before missing out on the playoffs altogether last season.
The Lakers are rated at +1300 to win the NBA Championship outright next season.
With their current roster, the Lakers look unlikely to be serious challengers in the season ahead and that is in part due to how competitive the Western Conference is right now.
James impressed on a personal level and became the first, and so far only, player in NBA history to record at least 30,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, and 10,000 assists.
The four-time champion finished the season averaging 30.03 points-per-game, his highest total since way back in 2006 but his campaign was hit by injuries and he was limited to just 56 games.
At 37, James needs to manage his minutes to continue to be effective and that means relying on his teammates to step up when he is off court and last year that just didn't happen.
Davis, 29, has struggled with calf, knee, heel and ankle issues over the last two seasons and has been limited to just 81 games over that period.
The arrival of Russell Westbrook in the 2021 offseason was supposed to be the start of a new big three in LA but he was unable to gel with the team last year and trade rumours continue to surround the 2017 MVP.
If the Lakers are to mount a serious challenge next season they need to bring in a few new faces and so far they have been unable to strengthen.
However, the Lakers have made one significant change as championship winning coach Frank Vogel was axed at the end of last season.
First-year coach Darvin Ham has since been hired after a successful four-year stint as assistant at Milwaukee Bucks, who won the championship in 2021.
Ham has stressed he sees Westbrook as a player who can play a key role for the Lakers in the season ahead and if they can get the best out of the guard that may well see them able to challenge for a championship, or at least secure a return to the playoffs but that isn't the most likely scenario.
If the Lakers are to build a stronger team around James and Davis then, realistically, they need to trade Westbrook as it just doesn't look as if he is a good fit for the team.
There has been speculation the Lakers could use Westbrook to engineer a deal for Brooklyn Net' Kyrie Irving, who played with James at Cleveland when they won the championship in 2016.
Bringing in Irving would give the Lakers a genuine big three, but it would also be a risky move. Another possibility would be to trade Westbrook for two or three players who could make an impact but are lower profile, and hope that James and Davis are able to stay fit for the majority of the season.
James' individual displays last season show he can still guide a team to a championship but as a veteran he needs more help from his team.
The key for the Lakers will be managing his minutes and fitness to ensure he is ready for the playoffs and they were unable to do that last year.
James sustained an ankle injury in late March in a period where the Lakers were pushing to make the playoffs. If they want to get the best out of the aging star they need to be in a position in the later stages of the regular season where they are able to limit his involvement to manage his fitness - and quite simply that means improving their roster in the months ahead.
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