All the preseason ecstasy, all the Vegas expectations, all the arrogance about winning a title, it went up in smoke after game number one. The usual culprit was forced to take all of the blame and fall on his LeBron James sword. Hint: he didn’t. That it was just one game didn’t lubricate the wound of Laker fans. They’d seen this movie of passive defense, reluctant offense, and inertia a year ago. They had enough.
LeBron was terrible in the Lakers season opener. He took bad shots. He missed easy shots, particularly at the rim. He was James Harden-esque with his dribbling us into a coma. He didn’t put Anthony Davis in the position to thrive but forced Davis into difficult contested shots. He looked slow and couldn’t guard Kawhi Leonard. He resembled an older player, one who is unfixable.
It wasn’t what Laker fans were hoping for when James teamed up with Anthony Davis this summer. While everyone understood Davis to be the best player on the team, James was expected, as he predicted, to put the league on notice; last year was a fluke. But, was it? The way James looked in game 1 was a similar look to LeBron last season. Not great. Good in moments.
Erase the overreaction. The NBA game, as it is today, the finite details that make the difference between winning and losing, are based on what the Warriors fashionably coined: Strength In Numbers. In the early 2000’s, the Lakers could get away with a two headed monster but today there has to be depth. In the West, everyone has it. Denver. Clippers. Utah. Houston. But, the Lakers don’t. Their lack of depth means an off night by James is headed for a loss. But fans don’t want to hear that. They know how much James is making. They know how much James classifies himself in the Michael Jordan image. They have heard James wax poetic about championships. So what was that on Tuesday night?
Some fans are so disgusted they don’t want to hear explanations. They’ve been treading water for 13 months. They want results, not a liquored up Tuesday night made possible because LeBron was awful.
Kawhi Leonard was as advertised. He did everything a two-time Finals MVP is supposed to do. Leonard played his game. He was fast but not in a hurry. He was smooth. He confused the Lakers, or humiliated them. Someone said Kawhi is Lebron ten years ago. Not really. He’s LeBron 3 years ago, when LeBron won his third title, his first in Cleveland. Since then, LeBron, though posting similar numbers, isn’t the same player. His quickness and domination have taken a few hits.
LeBron James is not the Lakers version of Steve Nash- old and broken- but he’s not the Cavs version of LeBron James either. He will be an All-Star. He’ll be second team NBA. He’ll help the Lakers march through the playoffs. But he’s not a point guard. He can’t control the action of a team. He doesn’t keep the ball moving and his shot selection, because he’s trying to prove a point, is often confusing. The Lakers need a point guard. A real point guard.
That aside, it’s unrealistic and dare say stupid to think LeBron could ever surpass the heroism and accomplishments of former Lakers greats who were here over a decade. LeBron doesn’t have that much time. He has three more years to make this team a champion. But from the comments after game one trash overrated can’t shoot ain’t Kobe soft weak kawhi’s son the benefit of the doubt is no longer coming his way.
LeBron is a unique NBA talent and personality. Most players never have their jerseys burned once. LeBron had his burned twice, most recently Hong Kong protestors. LeBron doesn’t wait for life to happen to him, he goes out and takes it which is why he has played in 3 different cities. He won titles in 2 of the cities that fetishized his talent, charisma, social i.q., and ambition. Los Angeles is last on the list for LeBron but- and this is redundant- LeBron isn’t first on the list for L.A. fans. Even if he wins a title, the romance has gotten a little bit stale.
When LeBron retires will his Los Angeles chapter be a cautionary tale, a glistening chapter of perseverance and adversity, or a dynasty born out of ashes? L.A. fans are torn when it comes to the greatest player of his generation, a top-5 player of all time. Failing here means you can’t say you’re the king, not with a straight face. Something is lost in the translation.