When the Los Angeles Lakers acquired LeBron James this past summer through free-agency, Laker fans expected nothing less than the team constructing a deep playoff run. There were flashes of what this team was capable of early on and the season was looking like a success until James was struck down with injury on Christmas Day. Then as we all know, the season deteriorated, fast.
Obviously, it is not just James’ injury being the cause of the team’s dramatic decline down the Western Conference standings. There are many factors that have resulted in the season diminishing at a rapid rate. Below, we take a look at some of these factors:
LeBron James had previously not missed any more than 13 games in a season, this season he missed a career-high 17 games due to a groin strain picked up in the Christmas Day showdown with the Golden State Warriors. In his absence, the team went 6-11.
In addition, Lonzo Ball being in and out of the lineup has not helped matters either. Whilst there may be questions around Ball’s offensive efficiency, there are no doubts surrounding the defensive impact that he has on the team. Ball has been out since January 19, and since the Lakers have sunk to the fifth worst team defensively in the league (116.6) over the period of 13 games. In that time, the Lakers have just won 4 games.
In addition, JaVale McGee has looked a completely different player (in a bad way) since his return from illness, where he suffered from pneumonia. Josh Hart has been dealing with a knee injury for quite some time now. Usually a reliable 3-point shooter, Hart has been shooting at a rate of 20.8% from beyond the arc since the beginning of January.
Kyle Kuzma has also missed some time, whilst Rajon Rondo, who is seen as a vital component to the roster through leadership, has missed 31 games.
It appeared to be the worlds worst kept secret that the Lakers were aggressively looking to pursue a trade for Anthony Davis before the February trade deadline. This clearly has had an effect on the young core, of whom we can understand that it may be difficult creating and maintaining momentum/cohesion when there’s the threat that you could be packing your bags imminently.
LeBron James and the Lakers were extremely public in their quest to land Davis, something that is usually not the case throughout the NBA. A recent report from Bleacher Report has included quotes from an unknown NBA executive regarding the topic, stating that James has destroyed the chemistry of the team.
“He killed the (Lakers’) chemistry… He shouldn’t have been so public about it. Even during the All-Star draft, he laughed about (wanting Davis to be his teammate).”
With the off-season veteran acquisitions of Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, Michael Beasley, JaVale McGee, etc, many started questioning why the Lakers front office were not adding shooting around LeBron James. A trait that every successful James team has been built around. Magic Johnson seemed adamant back in July that the front office did not need to add shooting, that that was not the way forward to success with a James-led team.
“Everybody’s talking about the Lakers don’t have shooting. Oh, we have shooting. But we saw all the teams in the playoffs that had shooting; they got beat.”
“Houston had tough guys. Boston had tough guys. So what did I bring in? Tough guys. So that’s how I’m building it. I took a lot from watching Boston play, watching Houston play, then advancing, and they beat all the teams that had all the great shooters.”– Magic Johnson, July 2018.
Well, guess what? The team needed shooting after all. Magic and co scrambled around at the February 2019 trade deadline for shooters that the team desperately needed. The Lakers opted for Reggie Bullock, which was a nice pickup, but then traded for Mike Muscala in a package that included Ivica Zubac. This was a move that had many scratching their heads. Especially as Zubac, at just 21-years-old, was having a career-high season in many aspects of his game.
The question remains, why did the front office not prioritise shooting more last summer, instead focusing on adding multiple play-makers. Something that the team did not appear to be in a desperate need of. Especially with the likes of Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram already being on the roster, along with the recent signing of LeBron James.
Obviously signing the best player in the world was a great feat of Magic Johnson and General Manager, Rob Pelinka, however the additions made after have questions marks against them. The decision to pay certain veteran contracts and let Julius Randle walk has question marks, and so on.
The blame cannot be put down to one player individually. Although the passive aggressive sighs and shrugs certainly do not give off a positive vibe to the rest of the roster. Yes, ever since James entered “playoff mode” he has been averaging just short of a triple-double, but his effort is to be desired, especially on the defensive end.
Regardless of the numbers, it appears that James is labouring more and is unable to get to the basket with ease, which is a huge part of his game. James has come to the point where he is a negative player on the defensive end, yet opts to point fingers elsewhere. The video below shows just that.
There is no doubt that as a leader of the team, James is well within his rights to question the team’s commitment. However to completely deflect the blame elsewhere is questionable too, there has to be some self-awareness. His words, especially the ones after the recent loss to the Grizzlies on Monday, will most definitely have a negative impact on the locker room.
“At this point if you are still allowing distractions to affect how the way you play, then this is the wrong franchise to be a part of and you should just come and be like, ‘Listen, I don’t [think this is for me]. I cannot do this,'” – LeBron James, 25th February 2019.
This current Lakers team appears to have no identity or direction at all, due to being constructed with young players who don’t know if they’ll be on the roster come the summer, along with veterans on one-year deals.
In terms of blame, whether it be the front office in Magic Johnson/Rob Pelinka or LeBron James himself, someone needs to hold themselves accountable. The fans would have a lot more respect for that, rather than the blame being deflected elsewhere by certain individuals.
The fans are devastated with how the season is coming to an end, understandably. However, the most devastating part is that there doesn’t appear to be any passion on the court from those associated with the purple and gold. At least go down fighting, look like you care, that’s all we (the fans) ask for.
By Matt Evans (@mattyyyevans)