After winning a championship just two seasons ago, the Los Angeles Lakers should be well ahead of the rebuilding San Antonio Spurs in the standings. That isn't the case, however, as both the Lakers and the Spurs are under .500.
While the Lakers have a better chance of making the playoffs this season, it's debatable whether they have a brighter future than the Spurs. After all, San Antonio has a much younger team and more assets at their disposal, but LA has star power. Which one will win out in the long term? Let's find out which team has the brighter immediate future.
The Spurs are just starting a rebuild, which often takes years to complete, but are off to a solid start despite their record. In fact, they already have an All-Star caliber player in Dejounte Murray and several promising young players.
Not only that, but they could have close to $40 million in cap space this summer to go along with a possible top 5 pick in this year's draft. Factor in internal development from Keldon Johnson, Devin Vassell, Joshua Primo, and even Murray, and the Spurs could be a lot better next season.
The Los Angeles Lakers are built to win now
Compare that to the Lakers, who are built to win now, as evidenced by them having the oldest team in the NBA, including a trio of All-Stars. That means that they have a very short window to compete, especially with a 37-year-old LeBron James and an oft-injured Anthony Davis as the team's two best players.
Additionally, there's Russell Westbrook, who's struggled this season, but with declining athleticism, could really go downhill even faster. Still, despite the Lakers' flawed roster, they benefit from having those three stars and playing in Los Angeles. As a result, they could reload in the offseason by signing younger players who want to come to L.A. and compete for a championship.
The Spurs obviously don't have the star power or the appeal that the Lakers have, which puts them at a disadvantage in free agency. However, with limited roster holes and plenty of money to spend, they can still attract talent. That, along with their lottery pick, can help San Antonio reach the playoffs as soon as next season. The Lakers also figure to be a playoff team, but the trajectory of the teams still appears radically different.
San Antonio should only continue to get better from here and could even set themselves up to compete for a championship in a few seasons if they play their cards right. Meanwhile, L.A. will go as far as LeBron takes them, which could still be pretty far, but the question is for how long.
He's in his 18th season and still playing great, but even a 10% dropoff could really hurt them, and that seems long overdue. It may never happen, but if it does, then they'll have to rely more on Davis, Westbrook, and a changing supporting cast to do more than just pick up the slack.
When James does retire, the Lakers will have to rebuild around Davis, who's nearly 29. He's obviously plenty talented but doesn't seem built to be a number one option and carry a team over the regular season and deep into the playoffs. Still, I wouldn't put it past L.A. to find a way to get another star to pair with him, given their track record of attracting big names.
Future assets play a big role
They're still tapped in terms of assets, however, following the trade that brought Davis there, which could limit their options in that regard. Fortunately, the Spurs don't have that problem and have the picks and young players needed to pursue a big trade for available stars like Ben Simmons, John Collins, or Domantas Sabonis.
Therefore, the Spurs appear to have the brightest immediate future. After all, San Antonio is trending in the right direction while the Lakers are moving in the wrong one. Things can always change -- a bad trade here, a great signing there, but the Spurs currently have the edge going forward.
Overall, San Antonio has set itself up well for the future. On the other hand, the Lakers are more limited in the moves that they can make but have proven capable of reloading despite limited assets. That is less of a sure thing, however, and they can only reload instead of rebuild as long as their big three remains effective.
Ultimately, while the Spurs are behind the Lakers and their three stars in the standings now, they should be much improved next season and in the foreseeable future.