By Ishmael Arrington (‘19)
L.A. Bron! After the arrival of arguably the greatest basketball player in NBA history, Lebron James, the Los Angeles Lakers were expected to make a deep run into the playoffs. James came off eight finals appearances and had the whole basketball community buzzing when he decided to test free agency during the 2018 off-season.
On July 2, James signed a four year, $153.3 million dollar contract with the Lakers. The Lakers also acquired JaVale McGee, Rajon Rondo and Lance Stephenson, all players whose NBA careers have taken interesting paths through the years.
All the moves the Lakers made brought a lot of controversy. Some people were excited but others doubted the team would be able to make noise in the Western conference.
The article, “Can LeBron become the best scorer to wear a Laker uniform?” mentioned some of James' thoughts.
“We have a great young core, we have great veterans, a great system, and a great organization, more importantly. It should be fun,” stated James when asked how the team would perform. That comment was interesting considering James being able to lead the young core was something many believed to be a difficult task.
The Lakers have always been a storied franchise with 16 NBA titles. The expectations are always high in the city of Los Angeles. The roster consist of young popular names like Lonzo Ball, the two-way, pass-first point guard who is said to be, “better than Steph Curry, Brandon Ingram, the number two pick from the 2016 Draft who still has much to prove according to many sports analysts and Kyle Kuzma, one of the biggest steals of the 2017 draft as he came off a great surprise season with a good case for rookie of the year.
The media is fast to judge big name franchises and players, when the team started of 0-3 most people around the league questioned James' leadership. Being a James-led team, they were expected to be a little better. At first it seemed like the doubters were right about the team not working out, but James’s performances for the first half of the year slightly quieted them.
The King was thought to have a MVP-type season in the beginning, leading the team in almost every statistical category, with the rest of the roster contributing the Lakers were 20-14 up to Christmas Day. This game against the Warriors could be seen as the turning point and the slow downfall of the 2018-2019 Lakers.
James went down in the 3rd quarter with a groin injury that left him out the lineup for 17 games. In those 17 games the team went 6-11 without James in the lineup and when he returned things didn’t get better. With a 26-25 record 6 games before the All Star break, L.A went 2-4 ending the first half of the season with a 28-29 record. There were many reasons for the Lakers’ decline, one was rumors going around the league that the team wanted Anthony Davis after he made it clear that he no longer wanted to be apart of the New Orleans Pelicans and wanted to be traded before the trade deadline.
An article by Darren Hartwell noted that the Lakers wanted to trade “Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, Ivica Zubac, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and two first-round draft picks” for Davis. James has been known for trading his teammates for better assets for the past few years so him being apart of the decision wasn’t a surprise. James and the Lakers denied any deal being made with the Pelicans but the impact it had on the team and their chemistry showed.
After the All Star break, the Lakers’ record was 5-13, making their current record is 33-42 and another reason for the team having a down year was King James not giving the effort and attitude that got him to the throne.
Mike Cole’s article argued that “[LeBron’s] defense (or general lack of interest in playing anything resembling defense) didn’t help the Lakers’ cause, either.” James has been seen playing lazy on defense and only focusing on offensive stats. Leaves opposing players wide open, allowing open lanes for layups and dunks, and blaming his teammates for mistakes he could have prevented.
Cole backs up this argument saying, “LeBron rarely exerts himself beyond a casual jog in transition defense and disregards spot-up shooters in most half-court situations, leaving them wide open.”
Pete Zayas of Laker Film Room told Bleacher Report that “His defensive game these days resembles a disinterested center rather than the high-end wing defender that he once was.” These statements describing James and his lack of effort are one of the biggest reasons for the Lakers struggling.
Another surprising reason for L.A’s downfall was the absence of Lonzo Ball. Ball's game changed significantly when he showed a non passive play-style on offense and great aggressive and ball hawking defense. Last year some concerns for him as the starting point guard was he wasn’t aggressive enough on offense and his shooting wasn’t the best. On offense this year he averaged 9.9 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.4 assist, while shooting 40.6 percent from the field and 32.9 from the 3 point line.
His role on defense was to guard the opposing team's best ball handler and lock him down along with switching all players to disrupt the other teams offensive schemes. During the 47 games Ball played the Lakers defensive rating 106.3, net rating was 1.1 and opponents 3 point percentage was 34.7. Without him the defensive rating went up to 115.7 , net rating was -9.2 and 3 point percentage was 37.1.
James wasn’t lying when “he called [Lonzo] Young King.
The Lakers needed the Young King Lonzo ball to get into the playoffs. With a 33-42 record as of March 28, 2019. It looks like the Lakers are tanking and will not be making the playoffs. With a lot of money to spend and a good chance to get a lottery pick in the draft, they could turn things around next season. On March 23, James posted a picture on Instagram with the caption saying, “Believe me! Promise #LakersNation the spell won’t last much longer! I swear. The marathon continues!” Is the king hinting at a historic season next year? Might have to get the popcorn ready for the L.A Bron lead showtime Lakers.