Can LeBron James and the Lakers live up to expectations?
Yesterday was NBA Media Day and all eyes were on the Los Angeles Lakers. It’s been years since the team that was affectionately known as “Showtime”, could say that.
That all changed when LeBron James signed with the Lakers. By bringing in James, the expectations for the younger players just go real. No longer will Laker fan be willing to live with the slow development of Brandon Ingram. Nor do they want to hear about Lonzo Ball and his struggle to hit a meaningful jumper.
LeBron James has been in the NBA Championship series the last eight years. That is going to come to a screeching halt now that he’s out West. Golden State is head and shoulders the best team in the league with teams like Houston and Boston jockeying for the second spot.
James is a smart man. He knew this would be a work in progress and it’s more of a business move than a basketball move anyway. But here’s the problem. While fans could be accepting of the Lakers not winning a title this season, will they be accepting of the Lakers not making the playoffs?
Yes. A LeBron James led team is going to miss the playoffs. The roster is incredibly flawed in a conference that is incredibly strong.
The Lakers have two of the least dependable jump shooting point guards in the league in Ball and Rajon Rondo. The pair couldn’t hit a meaning jumper if their life depended on it. So what happens when defenses take driving lanes away because they know they can help off of them? That spells doom for James because, early in games, he’s more aggressive going to the basket and the last thing the Lakers need is “Jump-Shooting James” to dominate the ball.
One would think that a team that ranked 29th in the three-point shooting would address that need in the offseason but here we are. It’s hard to see the Lakers improving in that area much this season. Unless James changes his style of play not having enough three-point shooters will kill the Lakers on nights where they play playoff caliber teams. Who on this roster is going to play the Bosh/Love corner three role? Is there a player on the roster who can get his own shot when James dishes the ball with 5 seconds left on the shot clock? Questions the Lakers need answers to.
Mental Fortitude of the Young Players
This could be the biggest hurdle for the Lakers. Coach Luke Walton will have to keep the confidence of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Kyle Kuzma up. Playing with James isn’t easy especially if you’re still trying to find your footing in the league. What doesn’t help in the locker room presence of Lance Stephenson and JaVale McGee. Stephenson is today’s Metta World Peace and McGee stayed in-line with Golden State due to its locker room construction. The Lakers don’t have the same benefit. It’s easy for James to be patient with the young guys at the beginning of the season but what happens when they have a five-game losing streak?
So naming eight teams that can finish in front of the Lakers in the West is rather easy.
Those eight should be the favorites to make the playoffs out of the West with teams like the Clippers or Minnesota not that far behind.
And possibly the biggest danger might be next season. With the Lakers set to have enough cap room to sign a star, there’s no given that they will. It’s hard for players to live with the glare and expectation of being Laker. Having James there makes it even harder. It’s why Paul George isn’t there. He’s not built for that type of pressure. Neither is Kawhi Leonard so don’t expect him to sign with the Lakers in the offseason. And please don’t say Kevin Durant. There’s no way that’s happening.
In fact, the Lakers might miss out on what many would classify as the top flight free agents. Bringing in a player like Kemba Walker would be more realistic so that would mean the Lakers would need to trade assets to bring in a top flight superstar. Something they’ve been unwilling to do.
So Lakers fans, go crazy but not too crazy. It’s great having the King in town but understand what you’re getting. You’re getting a superstar heading to the twilight of his career. That’s not exactly the type of movie that becomes a blockbuster.