LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers
In the last five years the Los Angeles Lakers have never won more than 35 games. At one point they lost 65 games. The team saw massive turnover in terms of coaching, front office personnel, and most importantly, players. The most recent change for the Lakers was a monumental one, as LeBron James agreed to sign a four-year, $154 million deal to play for the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Lakers landed a player that has nearly single-handedly ruled over the Eastern Conference for the better part of the last decade. One of the greatest players the game has ever seen joining one of the league’s most storied franchises. LeBron now leaves the Eastern Conference for the first time in his career, and is venturing into unfamiliar territory.
This unfamiliar territory will make his path to win more championships much more difficult. During his time in the East, many teams would simply wilt when in the mere presence of LeBron come playoff time, the West is much different. The Western Conference is like an ocean that is 66.67% composed of Sharks and other apex predators. LeBron James just joined the Western Conference, which is stacked with more talent from top-to-bottom than any other conference in any other sport in the history of professional sports.
Now that LeBron is on the Lakers he will have to build around him, as his playstyle generally requires a certain kind of archetype for his supporting cast in order for him to be successful. That archetype? Shooters, particularly shooters who can make open shots from beyond the arc. As currently constructed, the Lakers are not a particularly good three point shooting team, finishing 29th out of the 30 teams in terms of shooting from deep. They combined to shoot 34.5% from deep, and outside of Andre Ingram, who played two games at the end of the year, the best three point shooter on the team was Josh Hart, who shot 39.6% from deep.
I think it is safe to say that in order to compete at the highest level, with the top dogs in a very competitive conference, this roster will need work. Now, there is a feasible way to build a team to fit LeBron’s playstyle, through trades and free agency. Kawhi Leonard is still on the trade market, with rumors flying that he wants to be a Laker. That will add another near-40% three point shooter to the team who also plays incredible defense, winning DPOY twice. That will come at a massive cost though, as the Spurs are reluctant to send him to the Western Conference, especially if it involves the creation of a superteam in the process. DeMarcus Cousins is a free agent, and is coming off of a torn achilles, so that could be a high-risk, high-reward signing for the Lakers.
There are also several players still left on the market after the beginning of free agency who are more than qualified to catch passes and shoot threes for the Lakers. JJ Redick is available, Luc Mbah a Moute is available and also plays solid defense. Seth Curry, Wayne Ellington, and Avery Bradley are also all very intriguing. The thing about free agency this year though, is that while you might be able to move the needle against most top dogs in the west like the Rockets, Thunder, Trail Blazers, and Timberwolves, you are not moving the needle for the Warriors, especially through free agency.
LeBron has already put his stamp on this team tough, as Kentavious Caldwell-Pope re-signed with the team within the same hour LeBron James announced his decision. Then, nearly two hours later, LeBron's longtime playoff rival, Lance Stephenson, agreed to come play under the bright lights of Los Angeles.
The Golden State Warriors have plenty of experience dealing with LeBron James, having beaten him two-straight years and three times in the last four years. If anything, this move for LeBron will simply hurt his chances of putting up a fight against the reigning champs. In order to even face the Warriors in the playoffs, LeBron will likely have to beat the Houston Rockets and another solid team in the 4/5 seed range. That means more intense minutes for LeBron, more intense competition, and no breaks (shouts out to the city of Toronto). Each round of the Western Conference playoffs can be likened to this: it is like a horror movie. When the two teams face off, one team is a person getting chased by a killer with a knife while the other team is the killer with a knife. The winning team, who for the sake of this metaphor is the person running away from the killer with a knife, finally reaches a door and slams it in the face of the killer, locking it behind them. Just as they think they are safe, they take a deep breath, exhale, look up, only to find another killer in their face, this time with a bigger, sharper knife. Even if that team gets past its second attacker, they lock the door behind them one more time, they then have no time to breathe before looking up and staring down a gang of the most terrifying killers the game has ever seen...the Golden State Warriors.
So, long story short, LeBron James is now a Laker, a move that many saw coming, yet it still feels strange to see it actually happen. He will now join the Western Conference, which is a group of teams all vying with the Golden State Warriors to have a shot at the title. LeBron now takes his career into presumably its’ final chapter with the team that has historically had the most starpower. He will try and bring a title to the city of Los Angeles to try and add on to his already impressive list of accomplishments, but will he actually be able to do it? Can he construct a team capable of beating the Golden State Warriors?
Only time will tell, but the last time the Lakers tried to build a super team, things didn’t go so well. Now, for real this time, this is going to be fun.