What is going on with the Los Angeles Lakers? That’s a question I’m saddened to say we’re probably going to be asking for the next four years unless, by some miracle, the team goes 82-0 en route to a perfect playoff performance in each of LeBron James‘ final seasons.
Even then, that might not be enough.
The media storm around LA is exactly what LeBron should have expected when he arrived in Southern California, but things have not gone as planned on the basketball court for The King. James has suffered a real injury, and the team is floundering, currently sitting outside the playoff picture in the Western Conference. James, meanwhile, isn’t playing great and people are publishing video lowlights of his poor defense.
James has appeared increasingly prickly, peaking with a quote on apparent urgency and whether his teammates are really committed to basketball as the top thing in their life.
It’s a routine we saw in Cleveland as well and, at this point, is wearing thin.
James smartly has been able to simply coast through parts the regular season in recent years, making him one of the most durable top players the NBA has ever seen. However, coupled with his constant harping about teammates not giving enough effort to make up for the lack of his own James has been a less sympathetic figure in 2019.
Plus, it seems like he might just be getting old.
That was the supposition Paul Pierce levied on ESPN on Tuesday, saying that he felt James was probably still injured during a taping of “The Jump”.
“If I were the Lakers, I would shut LeBron down. No, seriously. He’s getting older, he has to do too much for them to win. Just look at … he puts out a triple-double, and they can’t win. Just imagine if he really goes out and really exerts himself and has to go for 40… This season was a wash coming in to it. They weren’t contending from the jump.”
“Why am I gonna put more wear and tear on LeBron? I need him for three more years. This window is this short. This window is this short to take advantage of LeBron now. He’s still — to me — I think he’s pretty much still injured.”
Pierce’s claim is pretty level-headed, at least in terms of the reality of this Lakers roster. LeBron knew what the plan was, the team knew what the plan was … now that the plan is working how it’s supposed to, why is James surprised?
If anything it lends insight into just how difficult it’s going to be for LeBron when he eventually does start to decline, or as often happens with older players, starts to get injured with more frequency. Will he accept his aging gracefully, and adapt in the vein of Vince Carter? Or will he beeline for the path of Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, who did not appear to have full recognition of their own situation?
The Lakers were always going to be bad. Buying into the idea that “LeBron guarantees 45 wins” in 2019 was always a doubt, even if everything went perfect, because of who is on this L.A. roster. Things don’t always go perfectly in the NBA, and hiccups here or there — not just with James but with injuries to guys like Lonzo Ball — were part of the realistic risk.
For the rest of the NBA, the real issue is probably having to listen to arguments made in bad faith about how good the Lakers should be, and what LeBron’s expectations are of everyone around him. It’s extreme, but Pierce’s idea isn’t totally crazy. People might lose their mind if James just cashed out on this season, but how much can he really recover in face value this year?
If the Lakers miss the playoffs, no doubt this conversation will rage all summer long.