Nevermind the fact that one-time trade target Kawhi Leonard landed in Toronto instead of L.A., or that free agent prospect Paul George re-upped for a long-term deal with the Thunder instead of returning to his roots, LeBron's arrival alone was enough to declare the Lakers a contender in the West. An also-ran transformed into an instant factor overnight.
It wasn't a title-ready roster that won over LeBron -- the Lakers won 35 games and missed the playoffs last season -- but a young core with promise coupled with business interests on the West Coast and the allure of playing in L.A. were likely all big factors in aiding Magic Johnson's first big win.
If you didn't believe that LeBron's addition could single-handedly vault the Lakers into playoff contention, odds suggest otherwise. According to projections from SportsLine data scientist Stephen Oh, the Lakers' trajectory for 2018-19 is the biggest riser compared to 2017-18 finishes among all NBA teams. The Lakers are projected to have a 15.2 win increase, putting their win total right at 50. As for the Clippers, no team is expected to take more of a hit. They are projected to win only 21.8 games -- a 20.2 dip from their 42-win 2017-18 season.
Let's take a look at the numbers.
Los Angeles Lakers
- 2017-18 record: 35-47
- 2018-19 projection: 50.2 wins (+15.2)
Outlook: Don't be fooled, folks. Signing Lance Stephenson, Rajon Rondo, JaVale McGee and Michael Beasley aren't the reasons the Lakers' odds have risen so drastically. Their 50.2 projected win mark is entirely a credit to LeBron. SportsLine projects his presence to bring in a 15-win improvement from last year's team.
- 2017-18 record: 24-58
- 2018-19 projection: 38.9 wins (+14.9)
Outlook: The Mavericks had a fairly quiet offseason in large part because of an atrocious 2017-18 regular-season record of 24-58. But drafting Luka Doncic, a frontrunner for Rookie of the Year, and signing DeAndre Jordan in free agency are big reasons why the Mavs could bounce back into the playoff picture a year removed from its worst season since the 1998-99 season.
- 2017-18 record: 22-60
- 2018-19 projection: 34.8 wins (+12.8)
Outlook: Memphis' tank job last season was exacerbated by a short-handed roster that was without Mike Conley, its all-everything point guard who is the heart and soul of the Grizzlies. They won just 22 games last season in his absence. So as we look ahead to next season, his return is the biggest factor in the projected uptick.
- 2017-18 record: 65-17
- 2018-19 projection: 53.3 wins (-11.7)
Outlook: The Houston Rockets had a league-best 65-17 record in the regular season, and pushed the eventual NBA champion Warriors to a seven-game series in the West Finals. But 2018-19 may not be the same story. After losing 3-and-D star Trevor Ariza, SportsLine's projections have the Rockets slumping to a 53-win regular season for 2018-19.
- 2017-18 record: 50-32
- 2018-19 projection: 30.4 wins (-19.6)
Outlook: Losing the best player on Earth for nothing in return is going to take its toll on Cleveland next season. Even with a team expected to feature a star in Kevin Love, SportsLine's projections have the 2018-19 win total for the Cavs set at 30.4 -- a 19.6 win decrease from a year ago.
Los Angeles Clippers
- 2017-18 record: 42-40
- 2018-19 projection: 21.8 wins (-20.2)
Outlook: SportsLine's projection has the Clippers as the biggest loser of the offseason. L.A. has a talented young core of players coupled with some experienced vets, but the mish-mash of pieces don't project to be anywhere near a playoff run next season. In fact, SportsLine projects the Clippers will win only 21.8 games next season -- a 20.2 win decrease from 2017-18.
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