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Opinion: Lakers' overhauled roster will need time, grind of season to mesh

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The saying the days are long, the years are short applies to the NBA, too.

April and the playoffs will be here in no time, but the day-to-day will be a long grind even for the Los Angeles Lakers.

The ups and downs of their season will be chronicled in excruciating detail. Heck, the ups and downs of their 121-114 season-opening loss to the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday is already being dissected.

On Day 1 of the season, there’s no need for overreactions that will define the Lakers’ season. But there are truths the Lakers need to address if they are going to win their second title in three seasons.

Except for their two main players LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the Lakers overhauled their roster. Of the five starters and 10 rotation players against the Warriors, only James and Davis were with the team last season though Rajon Rondo and Dwight Howard have institutional knowledge from playing on the 2020 championship team.

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The Lakers are mixing in new players, and that will take time, as the Lakers anticipated.

In a game in which James had 34 points and 11 rebounds and Davis had 33 points and 11 rebounds, the Lakers still lost. Russell Westbrook struggled in his Lakers debut (eight points on 4-for-13 shooting), and Carmelo Anthony was just OK (nine points) in his first game with the Lakers.

Russell Westbrook scored eight points in his debut with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Russell Westbrook scored eight points in his debut with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Westbrook is used to a high usage rate, and it won’t be as high alongside James and Davis. That's a significant adjustment for him, and he wasn't happy with the result against the Warriors.

“He’s the new guy, and he’s got to find his way,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said.

The Lakers will work on making sure Westbrook is involved in better ways. Plus, if James and Davis play like that offensively, scoring won’t be the Lakers’ problem.

The bigger issue is the Lakers’ defense. For the past two seasons, the Lakers were among the league’s best defensive teams.

The Warriors exploited holes in Los Angeles’ defense in the second half and especially in the fourth quarter. The Lakers led 84-74 with 2:35 left in the third quarter and were outscored 47-30 in the final 14-plus minutes. The Warriors’ dribble-drive and ball movement had the Lakers scrambling to cover open shooters.

It’s not lost on Vogel or James that they lost Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Kuzma in the Westbrook trade and Alex Caruso to Chicago in free agency. All three played key defensive roles with L.A.

Chemistry and defense are aspects that require time, more time than a training camp and preseason can provide.

Adding Westbrook to the starting lineup and Anthony as a key reserve is an experiment. This is also the biggest challenge of Westbrook’s career as he tries to blend his ultra-aggressive and not-always-efficient game with James and Davis.

"We will get better from it. He will get better from it – putting him in positions where it benefits him, that benefits our team and we'll continue to learn that as the season goes on," James said.

Not all experiments work. It’s just far too early to tell which direction this one is headed.

James is familiar with this process and has had success. He did it in Miami with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, did it in Cleveland with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love and then did it with Davis in Los Angeles. He won titles with all three teams.

So James knows the drill. He’s not worried after the first of 82 games. The Lakers won’t be a complete product by Christmas or by the February All-Star Game. Will they be a championship contender by late April?

That will get here fast enough, through the painstaking grind of a long season.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Lakers' overhauled roster will need time, grind of NBA season to mesh

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