By Joshua M Hicks (@jhicks042)
The Lakers season has been a roller coaster, or even better, a multi-episode drama worthy of placement after another of the burgeoning media mogul LeBron James’ projects on HBO.
From injuries to all types of rumors to Hollywood film sessions, the Lakers can’t seem to get a day of rest without being among the national headlines of every national media outlet and television network. And such headlines, like the one placed atop this column, tend to center on James and what connection he has to the legendary franchise’s latest problems and concerns.
With the Lakers on the verge of missing the playoffs for the 6th consecutive season and James not participating in the postseason for the first time since 2005, James’ name continuously pops up as the main target regarding who to blame for the team’s lack of success. James deserves at least some blame for his role in the Lakers’ struggles, however, most of the blame goes toward Magic Johnson and the front office.
The team’s struggles started well before LeBron was a part of the team’s mix, back when the Lakers broke up part of the original young core that featured Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell. Another mistake was not re-signing veteran Brook Lopez prior to this season. With these three players, given their current outputs it’s very much certain that James would have led the Lakers back to the playoffs.
After bristling with Lakers management, re: Magic, and being traded in 2017 Russell has developed into an All-Star in Brooklyn, the type of equal distributor and scorer from point guard that James could use to lighten his load. Averaging career highs with 21 points and 7 assists, Russell is leading the Nets to the playoffs for the first time since 2015.
Since Randle was released in the off-season and picked up the Pelicans, he became a valuable tandum player — ironically in the same frontcourt with Anthony Davis — using his improved Draymond Green-like skillset to average 21 points, 3 assists and 9 rebounds a game, all career highs. As for Lopez, he has transformed his game to being a prominent long-range shooting center, showing the ability to stretch the floor offensively — something players a foot shorter than him aren’t doing in LA — and giving the Eastern Conference-leading Bucks 13 points on 37 percent shooting from the three.
Newcomers like JaVale McGee, Lonzo Ball, Michael Beasley, Lance Stephenson they do not add up offensively to what the Lakers could have been had they kept their three original players, they don’t maximize the benefits that James brings to the best-fitting role players around him and none, outside McGee’s limited role in helping Golden State to two titles, have proven themselves to be players who can assist in championship aspirations.
When building the Lakers roster this off-season, Magic Johnson made it known that he wanted to bring back the “Showtime” Lakers that defined his time as an active Laker — “showtime” play is defined by a constant fast-break complimented with super talents and a intelligent minds who can score efficiently on offense while also maintaining a certain level of physical defense. It is nice to bring that mentality back since the league is transitioning to that style of play, but along with all that you still need some shooting on your roster in today’s game, especially with LeBron James as your primary ball handler and distributor.
All of James’ Finals teams have had three components: spot up shooters, a couple play makers and defensive big men. This current Lakers team had to many play makers and not enough shooters, which hurts them in a league that now lives and dies by the three-point shot. They are 29th out of 30 teams within the league in three-point shooting.
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The Lakers needed to follow James’ winning formula and merged it with the “Showtime” mentality instead of bringing in numerous playmakers without the ability to consistently shoot, like Rajon Rondo, Stephenson and Beasley. Remember, even the “Showtime” teams had some effective three-point shooting from Byron Scott and Michael Cooper, both of whom shot over 35 percent from long distance. The Lakers this season do not have one player shooting over 35 percent from the field.
Yes, when King James came to LA, he not only came to further ensure his post-mogul stages and business ventures, but he also changed team’s expectations from a player-development project to a win-now mode. This quick transition is one of the reasons why the Lakers season is debacle: the disconnect between Luke Walton and his veteran players. The Lakers do not have the ideal coaching staff for James and veteran players.
There was already a disconnect between the front office and Jeanie Buss regarding keeping Walton as the leader of this legendary franchise, but now with James in town and the various reports of disputes between the egos of Beasley and Stephenson, it is more clear than ever that Walton does not have the ultimate respect from James and the only resolution to that relationship is for a divorce. Even though this issue gives Walton an unfair advantage, a new marriage is what is needed in order to save the rest of James’ tenure in a Lakers uniform.
Regarding the Anthony Davis situation and trade rumors, Davis’ agent Rich Paul definitely made a sketchy move to release the request around the trade deadline. James could have played a role in that process, but the Lakers played that situation horribly by assisting in leaking the trade packages that they were willing to give up for Davis. By engaging in the hype, the young players became rattled and lost their focus, affecting their play and ability to win necessary games.
The team also went through enormous amounts of injures which really played a role into falling from fourth to last in the Western Conference. James has been more hurt this season that all 15 of his years combined and Rondo has been hurt pretty much all season long. We also cannot forget the young core of Brandon Ingram and Ball being out for significant amounts of time, including the rest of the season.
We cannot fully dismiss James regarding any of these issues. Even though he was still playing at a high level averaging 28 points, 8 assists and 9 rebounds, it seems like he was not fully engaged. He was practicing his business ventures and creating shows during controversial time frames, which could be a distraction to the team as they were going through these up and down phases.
We also cannot dismiss how the disconnect between him and the coaching staff can also play a role in his sometime disengagement on the court. But no matter what, James came here to win, and he came to here to be part of history.
The only way you can win with the King is if you adapt to him, and the Lakers are now suffering the consequences for their failures to do that.
Joshua M. Hicks is the lead columnist of WARR