UPDATE: As expected, the Lakers have ruled LeBron James out for Friday night against the Kings.
The Lakers are 2-9 (tied for the worst start in franchise history), have lost four in a row, and their short-term problems keep piling up :
LeBron James is doubtful for Friday night against the Kings after an MRI showed a left adductor strain (which is a fancy way of saying a groin strain).
Darvin Ham said LeBron James had an MRI that revealed a strained left adductor.
He’ll be listed as doubtful for Friday’s game, and is day-to-day moving forward.
— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) November 10, 2022
After Friday LeBron is day-to-day, but with his age, history of groin strains, and the fact it’s an injury that is often slow to heal, expect him to miss more time. Maybe a week or two.
THE LONG-TERM IN L.A.
Those short-term concerns about LeBron seem quaint compared to the Lakers’ bigger issue: Finding a way to flip this roster into a contender around LeBron. Fast.
The Lakers promised LeBron they would build exactly that kind of team when he signed a contract extension this past summer that locked him in with the Lakers through the summer of 2024. To say that hasn’t happened is to put it kindly — this Lakers’ roster is not an unlucky 2-9. New coach Darvin Ham came in preaching accountability, defense and finding a role for Russell Westbrook. So far, the Lakers’ defense is better than a season ago (although still the middle of the pack), the team generally plays hard, and Westbrook is playing his best basketball off the bench (18.6 points a game in that role with a 60.1 true shooting percentage). Still, they have the third-worst net rating in the league, and the biggest issue is they can’t shoot.
It leaves the Lakers front office with a dilemma: Throw in the two first-round picks they can trade right now (2027 and 2029), plus Westbrook, and see if they can find a trade that makes the team respectable this season, not wasting a season of LeBron as he turns 38. Or, write this season off, keep their powder dry, and look for a bold move next summer? Chris Haynes details all of that at Bleacher Report.
The question often discussed in Lakers’ headquarters nowadays is whether they should go all-in expeditiously on revamping the roster around James and Anthony Davis, or are they better served to postpone wholesale changes until the end of the season?…
James, who turns 38 next month and is in Year 20 of his NBA career, does not want to waste a season of his high-level playing days in hopes of incoming reinforcements for the 2023-24 campaign, sources say. Other core players on the roster would likewise prefer those picks to be used to elevate this year’s team…
With the team’s trajectory trending south, sources indicate the front office is unlikely to attach those picks to a potential trade out of concern that such a transaction would not significantly change the course of the season.
Put simply, the Lakers front office isn’t interested in the much-discussed Buddy Hield/Myles Turner trade with the Pacers because it might make the Lakers a playoff team, but nothing more. And no, the Lakers aren’t looking to trade Anthony Davis (not yet, anyway).
The reality is the Lakers’ plan to build a champion around LeBron and Davis has become flawed at its core. When they won the 2020 bubble championship (no asterisk here), LeBron was the best player in the league, or at worst he was in the top three. Also in the bubble, Davis had his jumper falling and was a clear top-10 player, impacting both ends of the court. While fans and media have focused on how the Lakers’ front office blew up the 3&D roster around their stars (which was a massive miscalculation), the bigger issue is neither star player has been that good since. Maybe they are both top 15 players right now (All-NBA level, which could be generous), but even if that’s true, neither is a top-five guy who can anchor a title team. If the Lakers chase a third star, they need someone younger, more athletic, and better than they have now.
Howard Beck of Sports Illustrated said on SI’s Crossover NBA Show podcast that front-office executives from other teams think the Lakers have been waiting for a specific player.
“When I brought up the Lakers, the pushback I was getting was ‘they’re waiting for a specific player.’ That they’re not doing the Pacer deal, that they won’t do the Kyrie [Irving] deal now that we for sure thought they would do a couple months ago, is an indication that the Lakers are waiting for a bigger piece to come loose that they think they can trade Westbrook and the two future firsts for.”
Maybe that player is Bradley Beal, who the Lakers have coveted for years and would fit well next to LeBron and Davis (even if Beal is shooting just 32.5% from 3 this season so far). Except, Beal can’t be traded until January after signing an extension this offseason, and even then it would only happen if he demanded a trade — something he has yet to do despite multiple opportunities in the past. The Wizards have no interest in moving on from Beal, something Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington and I discussed near the end of our recent podcast talking Wizards and the East.
Maybe Kevin Durant wants out of Brooklyn (although the Lakers trade package seems woefully short of landing him), maybe it’s someone else we don’t know about yet. Or, maybe other front office executives are searching for an answer because they don’t see a pattern in the Lakers’ behavior.
There is no easy answer. The Lakers backed themselves into a corner — which somehow earned GM Rob Pelinka a contract extension. Now they are stuck between the bad choices of making desperate moves now or blowing off a season when LeBron turns 38. No doubt Pelinka and the Lakers’ front office told LeBron they would give him a winning roster when he signed the extension, but the execution of that has been almost as bad as the Lakers’ 3-point shooting. Now they are stuck and the front office is trying to decide which direction to go.
But there may be no good choices, just less bad ones.