Yes, the Lakers Are Now a Legit Contender

Los Angeles Lakers v Houston Rockets
Los Angeles Lakers v Houston Rockets / Bob Levey/GettyImages

The Los Angeles Lakers completely flipped their fortunes for the 2022-23 season at the trade deadline. LA went from floundering to a legit contender by refreshing its roster. Now the Lakers are doing it on the court, flying up the standings with a roster that's finally getting healthy. If they can keep everyone on the court, they can absolutely come out of the Western Conference in the playoffs.

On February 9, 24 hours before the NBA trade deadline, the Lakers were 25-31 and sat in 13th place in the West. That day they flipped Russell Westbrook, Juan Toscano-Anderson, Damian Jones and a 2027 first-round pick (top-four protected) to the Utah Jazz, in exchange for D'Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt as part of a three-way deal that included the Minnesota Timberwolves. It was a massive move that gave the franchise life. In separate trades, they also acquired Mo Bamba and Davon Reed, and all of those moves followed the January acquisition of Rui Hachimura. All-told, the Lakers added six players while moving on from Westbrook, Patrick Beverley and others who weren't pulling their weight.

Since that day, LA is 16-7 and has leapt into seventh place in the West. The Lakers enter Wednesday tied with the Los Angeles Clippers for sixth in the conference and are a half-game behind the Golden State Warriors for fifth. And that's despite playing several weeks without LeBron James. Anthony Davis has also missed games in that stretch, as have Russell and Bamba. They're all set to be back on the court this week.

It appears the Lakers are finally getting fully healthy with only a few games left before the postseason. They now have the firepower to compete with anyone in the conference as long as they can keep their best players on the court. Davis has been a monster when he has played this season. He's averaging 26.5 points, 12.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 2.0 blocks and hitting 56.9 percent from the field. James has only played in 52 games but has been his usual, astounding self when on the court. He's averaging 28.9 points, 8.4 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game.

What has changed for the team's two superstars is that they're now surrounded by players who actually complement them. Russell, Beasley, Austin Reaves, Troy Brown and Lonnie Walker IV can all shoot the ball. Vanderbilt is an outstanding defender and elite athlete -- something the Lakers have been missing for years -- and Dennis Schroeder is having a comeback season at point guard.

Russell (17.1 points, 6.3 assists), in particular, has been outstanding in 14 games with the team, providing a solid third-option to take the pressure off the team's big two. While Beasley has run hot and cold and he isn't a great defender, he spreads the floor on offense and is averaging 2.5 made 3-pointers per game since the trade. Reaves has had a big breakout as the 24-year-old has proven he can be a capable scorer in the NBA.

The players are all still trying to get used to each other but the results speak for themselves thus far.

I'm not here to say the Lakers are the favorites in the West. That's absolutely not true. But given where the roster is now, LA should be able to play with anyone. Since the squad's formation, it is winning 70 percent of its games. The Lakers could definitely make a run when the playoffs begin.