LeBron James is a Los Angeles Laker. Just think about that statement, and how strange it will be to see James put on that purple and gold uniform on opening night. It’s almost a storybook ending, as most of the all-time greats to play basketball played for the Lakers — Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’ Neal, Kareem-Abdul Jabbar, Jerry West. The list goes on and on.
The difference between LeBron and previous Lakers stars is that they were part of a Lakers dynasty. They won championships. Of course, LeBron has not put on a Lakers uniform just yet, but when he does, he must win. The pressure is not only on him, but on the young Lakers players and coach Luke Walton.
1. Three-point shooting. In the NBA, you need to be able to shoot. The game has rapidly adjusted to a game of three-point shooting, making it so important to be able to space the floor. Players like newly-signed guard Rajon Rondo have had to alter their game over their years in the NBA. Rondo shot 20.7% on 0.4 three-point shots per game in his rookie year, but he shot 33.3% on 2.3 three-point shots last season.
A player’s ability or inability to shoot is also magnified playing next to LeBron James. Players like Kevin Love and Channing Frye have won championships next to LeBron because they spaced the floor and let him go to work. If LeBron’s teammates can’t shoot, he doesn’t have that space he needs to get to his spots, score, or find teammates.
Do the Lakers have enough shooting to help LeBron? After shooting 41% at UCLA, Lonzo Ball shot 30.5% from three last season. While Brandon Ingram shot 39% from three, he only took 1.8 attempts per game. He has yet to give a reason to his opponents to not help off of him. Similarly, Michael Beasley shot 39.5% on just 1.2 attempts from three. Rondo and Lance Stephenson are not reliable shooters.
Most young players develop their game with playing time and the ball in their hands. With LeBron as option one, Ball and Ingram won’t have the ball as much. They won’t take as many shots, because he is going to command the ball. LeBron makes the game easier for his teammates, but he typically likes to play with veterans with high basketball IQ. For one of the first times in his career, he is playing with young players who haven’t developed. They might not get the same opportunities playing with LeBron as they would playing on a lottery team.
2. Can Walton keep everyone happy? League experts criticized Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka for some peculiar signings after acquiring LeBron James. A reason for worry would be these players personalities.
Luke Walton coached the Golden State Warriors through 43 games of the glorious 73-9 season. He created an unselfish environment where the players could flourish, but it’s different with the Lakers. With the Warriors, no one had a huge ego. The team had just won a championship, and the players knew their role. That made it easy for Walton to bring them together to put up a record of 39-4 while Steve Kerr was absent.
With the Lakers, everything changed in the offseason. The team brought in veteran Rajon Rondo, but will he be content with receiving less minutes than Lonzo Ball? He has had trouble with countless coaches in the past, and it would surprise no one if the same happened with Luke Walton. Lance Stephenson is extremely prideful and with the Lakers logjam at guard positions, he will not get as many minutes as he is used to. Everyone wants minutes, and Walton is going to have to find a way to keep this combination of veterans and young players happy and willing to sacrifice for the team.
3. Can Walton handle LeBron? Playing with LeBron is tough. The pressure is immense. Just ask Kevin Love or Chris Bosh. It is even tougher, though, to coach LeBron. A lot of the blame falls on the coach, because every game involving LeBron is magnified. If something goes wrong on a LeBron-led team, the coach is often the scapegoat.
Walton has playoff experience as a player and as an assistant coach, but it is extremely tough for him to go from a lottery team to a team with championship aspirations. He must keep LeBron happy and let him run the team but also stay in a position of power where he demands respect from his players and most importantly, LeBron. He has never been in a situation like this.
A disastrous first season with LeBron on the Lakers could lead to Walton becoming the fall guy and looking for a new coaching opportunity in 2019.
4. LeBron at the 5. The Lakers do not have that many big men. They didn’t make a run at DeMarcus Cousins or Clint Capela and didn’t resign Brook Lopez. Instead, Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka opted to sign Javale McGee for the veteran’s minimum. McGee will most likely start at the 5, but there is not much depth behind McGee.
The Lakers drafted Moritz Wagner in the 2018 Draft, but he is extremely young and slightly undersized. You cannot count on him to give you good minutes at the 5. This means that LeBron James will likely get minutes at the center position. Entering his 16th season, LeBron will be 34 years old in December. He has defied “Father Time” for many years now, but eventually his body will slow down, and he won’t be able to keep up.
Playing LeBron at the 5 could be physically damaging to his body, speeding up the process towards “Father Time.” The Lakers need to preserve LeBron and keep him at his supreme level for as long as possible.