LeBron James took everyone by surprise this past offseason when he signed a 4-year deal with the Lakers. The fact that he went to the warm weather of LA wasn’t surprising, but the fact that he signed a long-term contract with a team with no other superstars was. He notoriously wouldn’t sign a long-term deal in Cleveland because he reportedly didn’t trust owner Dan Gilbert.
I would love to have been in the room as Magic Johnson was pitching LeBron the next four years of his future. This is how I imagined it went:
Magic: Okay LeBron, picture this: You’re driving down Sunset Boulevard in your Bugatti waving at movie stars left and right. It’s a gorgeous, sunny day as you drive to practice from either one of your LA mansions. And you come to work with a lot of young, hungry guys who really want to work. You know we’ve got a really bright future, and you can put us over the edge.
LeBron: Yeah man! I love it! Sure beats Cleveland. So who you getting this summer after I sign?
Magic: Oh I’m sure PG13 will sign with us. It’s all he’s been talking about since his days in Boringsville, Indiana.
LeBron: Yeah I like his game a lot I think he compliments me really well.
*Paul Geroge re-signs with OKC*
*LeBron calls Magic*
LeBron: What happened man? I thought we were getting him?
Magic: Don’t worry baby, I got this! (I feel like Magic is a “baby” kinda guy)
LeBron: *Wipes sweat from brow/ do-rag Whew. Ha I was getting scared for a second man! So what’s the plan?
Magic: Okay so you remember how back in 2009 when the Celtics beat you in the ECF and you were complimenting Rondo’s game? How you liked his unselfishness and how he moves the ball? Well, we’re getting him 10 years later for ya! Boom! How do you like dem apples?
LeBron: oh… okay? Well, I guess he had a pretty good postseason this past year. But like what about Kawhi? How are the trade talks coming with the Spurs?
Magic: Nah, Nah, Nah. Forget him! I’m going to do one better! I’m going to sign Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee, AND Michael Beasley all to one-year dea….
*LeBron hangs up the phone.
It’s like I was really there, right? There is absolutely no way this was the vision magic pitched LeBron back in July. And while his decision to join the Lakers was based largely on lifestyle factors and his son’s young basketball career and not necessarily winning championships, there’s no way Magic wants to waste LeBron’s prime (however long that might be– forever?).
The idea of a LeBron-led team not winning 50 games and missing the playoffs seams ludicrous. But he hasn’t had a team this inexperienced (bad) since his first stint with the Cavaliers. I’d even argue he had a better team when he came back to the Cavs in 2014. A young Kyrie and a perennial All-Star in Kevin Love at least made some sense. The national media is making this new Lakers team sound better than what James had in cleveland last season. But who’s better?
Lonzo, Josh Hart, and Brandon Ingram are all young, unproven assets that may or may not take that next leap. You could also throw Kyle Kuzma into that category, although his game feels like it should fit seamlessly alongside LeBron. And his veterans around him that are supposed to add immediate value is like the Island of Misfit Toys. Rondo, Lance, the guy who always wins Shaqtin’ a Fool, Beasley. How do any of those veterans, who will have to play significant minutes for them by the way, compliment LeBron at all? This would be the roster I’d put together if I wanted to punish LeBron.
So this is my thinking: Magic and Luke Walton are going to waste a year of LeBron’s prime. My guess is that Walton will play LeBron around 30 minutes a night–which is still a lot– but a big step down to what he was doing in Cleveland playing essentially the entire game. He played almost 40 minutes per night in Cleveland because when he went out, the Cavs were an actual dumpster fire. I expect something similar to happen in LA– it’ll just be a little warmer outside.
So to expect 50+ wins in the Western Conference, from this Lakers squad seems unreasonable to me. Las Vegas has them ranked second in the West to win the championship at 7-2 odds, only trailing the GS Warriors. This shows you LeBron’s influence on the league, but I doubt Vegas is considering what the smart play is for the Lakers. And that’s to take it easy this year, give LeBron some time off to do whatever, play him around 30 minutes a night, swallow the horse pill that is this season, develop the young talent, and go out in 2019 free agency and do what you should have done this past summer and get LeBron some help. Because he alone, is not LA’s answer.