The mix of LeBron James being dramatic and the massive Lakers fan base already leads to hyperbole, but Monday afternoon Shaquille O’Neal took it to a whole new level.
Shaq was on CNBC talking crypto and his roughly 6,347 endorsement/franchise deals when the topic turned to the Lakers’ struggles and LeBron. He said there is an expectation of winning with the Lakers and a few other franchises, and it’s hard when those expectations are not met.
Then Shaq threw this out there.
“If you trade LeBron, you’ll never win again,” Shaq said. “You have to make a decision. If you put LeBron around the right guys, they are definitely going to win. I think whoever put the team together needs to step up and try and fix it.”
Well, um, that brings us back to LeBron. He, at the very least, advocated hard for Westbrook.
Also, the “never win again” line is over the top — this is the Lakers. They are the biggest franchise brand in the league playing in the second-largest market. They can miss the playoffs for five straight seasons and LeBron will choose to play there anyway. Fans from Sacramento to Charlotte and every small market in between can complain all they want, the Lakers have and will always have a huge advantage in recruiting players and, over their history, they have played that advantage well.
After talking to sources, the reality looks more like this: nobody around the league expects the Lakers to trade LeBron. Plus, he came out and said he wants to “stay with the Lakers as long as I can play” LeBron’s shots across the bow of GM Rob Pelinka and the Lakers’ front office during All-Star weekend are seen as a message to be aggressive in reworking the roster this offseason, a message Pelinka no doubt got from Lakers’ ownership as well. Jeanie Buss was in the building Sunday night, saw the lackluster performance, heard the boos, and decided to leave in the third quarter.
If we get to August, when LeBron is eligible for a two-year, $97.1 million contract extension, and the Lakers’ roster looks similar to what it does now, then all bets are off. That is also highly unlikely. The Lakers are not looking at this roster and thinking, “if we just run it back everything will be fine.” Changes, from the coaching staff through the roster, are expected.
The one constant will be LeBron James (and Davis).
Whether they can surround LeBron with what Shaq sees as the “right guys” is another question.