There are currently two problems for the Los Angeles Lakers. The first is how they currently play. The second is what comes next.
The present is the most visible and ugly manifestation of what is wrong in Lakeerland. This team, as LeBron James has pointed out, is not “constructed to shoot great”.
That is indeed diplomatic. But there is no escaping the utter and precise indictment LeBron’s words present to the Lakers roster and odds this season.
This team is 0-3. They have a stagnant and embarrassing offense, and players are more likely to taunt than aid LeBron’s alleged championship aspirations.
Take Anthony Davis. Although talented, he is still an unreliable star when it comes to his health and a question mark, even if he is available, as a solution to a team devoid of talent. This is a roster of three to 15 that ranks among the worst in the NBA. And that’s before taking into account the special dumpster fire that is Russell Westbrook as a Laker.
He’s been just awful, an albatross around a team already burdened with the expectations that always accompany LeBron, but minus enough talent to remotely fulfill them.
It’s bad and chances are it will only get worse.
It’s the future – however distant it may seem for LA from the haze of fatigue, fear, horror, pessimism and ridicule unfolding this season – that is potentially the most troubling.
You’re supposed to be bad after LeBron, not while he’s still on your list.
That’s always been the trade-off: compete and win now, and burn out and rebuild later. And later, like winter, is coming. LeBron turns 38 on December 30. His new two-year deal expires in the summer of 2024, and despite his insanely high level of play, there’s no guarantee he’ll see this Lakers team as the right vehicle for the twilight years of his career.
During LeBron’s first stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers, they made the playoffs for five consecutive seasons, including a failed final in 2007. After he left, Cleveland went 97-215. Thirty-three wins was the highlight. The post-LeBron principle – in which your childhood, possessions, design choices and, some would argue, culture were sacrificed for the here and now – had begun.
The same pattern followed in Miami: Four years of greatness — back-to-back-to-back-to-back NBA Finals appearances and two rings — were the compensation for a post-LeBron future with a comedown for an organization under Pat Riley had suffered just one losing season in over ten years.
But the Heat, when LeBron returned to Cleveland, went 37-45 without him that first season, and had ups and downs before gaining a foothold several years later.
The same goes for Cleveland — Finals appearances, a long-coveted championship, and then three seasons of terrible basketball before CEO Koby Altman started to line up and turn things around.
That’s always been the deal. Having King James always comes with a price to pay, but it’s brand new territory that the price is paid while it’s still there.
Often, LeBron’s departure portends that of others. In Cleveland, head coach Mike Brown and general manager Danny Ferry would move on after LeBron did. In Miami, Dwyane Wade would say goodbye to LeBron and then, eventually and awkwardly, to the Heat team he had played for his entire career. The second time Cleveland saw LeBron leave, a familiar pattern followed. The head coach, Ty Lue, and general manager, David Griffin, also left.
Take LeBron. Win and win and win. Watch him leave. Lose, recalibrate, rebuild. That has been the pattern. Until now.
The Lakers are not a good basketball team, and even with a solution to Westbrook’s mess — redeem him through trade or buyout — it’s unlikely that this team will be talented enough to do much to win this year. LeBron will likely pass Kareem as the all-time leading scorer, but that history is unlikely to be matched by comparable team success.
It’s hard to see Anthony Davis as number 1 in a championship-level team. Most of the young talent the Lakers had amassed before LeBron was traded away to get AD. LeBron future.
Yes, this Lakers season has gotten off to a bad start in what is likely to be a bad year. But this may just be the beginning. Winning with LeBron has been the norm until now. But losing without him is even more of a guarantee.