A Lost Season for Lebron James and the Lakers?
April 18, 2019 by Min Jun Kim
With the Los Angeles Lakers eliminated from the playoffs, now might be a good time to think about whether this season has been a lost one for Lebron James and the Lakers.
The offseason leading up to the 2018-2019 NBA season began with a lot of promise for the Lakers when James signed a contract worth 4 years and $154 million with the Lakers franchise. This was a significant boost to the Lakers coming off a 35-47 season and missing postseason action for the 5th straight year.
That the Lakers were not able to sign other star free agents did not feel like such a huge missed opportunity, with two max slots opening up in cap space and the young developing talent of Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Lonzo Ball already on the roster.
They fleshed out the roster with a bunch of one-year deals for Lance Stephenson, Rajon Rondo, Michael Beasley and Javale McGee in order to preserve the cap space. This brought about a lot of questioning regarding the franchise’s decision to sign the notoriously mercurial players, with Twitter followers going as far as tagging the quartet as the meme team.
There was also criticism of the roster lacking shooters, with only Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Brandon Ingram shooting above league average from the 3-point line during the previous season. That they constructed a roster devoid of any shooting was confounding, especially when James has historically thrived when the court was opened up for him with multiple shooters.
By Christmas Day, the Lakers were owners of a 20-14 record and up to 4th in the Western Conference. The road ahead was looking rosy, with some commentators even predicting they could potentially get to the Western Conference Finals. To highlight just how sky-high expectations were for the Lakers, Las Vegas oddsmakers set the over under for wins at 48.5 for season (up from 30 odd games in the previous season).
But then during the Christmas Day game against the Golden State Warriors, James suffered a groin injury, which prompted a freefall down the standings. During the subsequent 17 games James was out of the line-up, the Lakers posted a dismal 6-11 record and fell to 8th in the Western Conference Standings – just scraping for a playoff spot.
Then Anthony Davis, through his agent Rich Paul, publicly demanded a trade from the New Orleans Pelicans, 10 days before the trade deadline of February 7. This sparked off a trove of rumours, as Rich Paul was also Lebron James’ client and childhood friend. But the Pelicans rejected the Lakers’ offer and the roster went into complete disarray. The Lakers went on to lose winnable games against clearly tanking teams and consequently lost out on the playoffs.
Lebron James had been to 8 consecutive NBA finals prior to coming to Los Angeles and this was supposed to be the season he brought the Lakers back to the glitz and glamour of the previous eras. James was brought in to bring Showtime back. It was also supposed to be a season of auditioning by the young core of players to see which of them will stay with the King to contend for championships within La La Land, but they failed to live up to the hype – with the exception of Kuzma.
This season could be seen as just a blip in Lebron James’ hall of fame career. But it also has the potential of becoming what Michael Jordan’s stunt in Washington was. Jordan went to the Washington Bullets after coming out of 2 retirements, but it was just for the sake of the joy in playing the game of basketball. But James came to Los Angeles with the hope and expectation of winning a championship for the storied franchise. This was never meant to be a farewell party for him.
The decisions that the front office of Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka took in signing the meme team, trading Brook Lopez, trading D’Angelo Russell, letting go of Julius Randle and failing to trade for or sign Paul George in free agency looks increasingly bad. Especially when they had pinned their hopes on the 2019 summer class of superstar free agents and none of those players seeming to want to play for the Lakers.
What if the Lakers are unable to get another superstar during the upcoming free agency period? Lebron James will be turning 35 next season, and although still one of the best players in the league (averaging a ridiculous 27.6 points, 8.8 rebounds, 8.3 assists on 51% success rate from the field and a 25.7 PER) he cannot carry a franchise to a title on his lonesome; he needs help. He suffered the first major injury of his career this season and showing more human levels of durability for the first time in his career; it is undeniable that he is a diminishing asset. The Lakers must do all they can to construct a competent roster around him or they will have wasted the few remaining prime years of one of the greatest NBA players of all time.