In the midst of all the off-season drama, there has been one sustained storyline which hasn’t reached a conclusion thus far. It is LeBron James future. All evidence seems to point towards his inevitable departure from Cleveland to the Los Angeles Lakers in the summer of 2018.
It is an unspoken rule in the NBA that if you can get a superstar in a deal, you’ve won the deal. It is also an unspoken truth that LeBron James is the biggest superstar in the NBA. But does that equal championships?
No. LeBron James signing with the Lakers wouldn’t be enough to transform them into a top team in the West, let alone a championship contender. If anything, his arrival could hinder the team’s long-term success.
The Lakers have one of the youngest teams in the league, filled with raw, hungry players like Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle and Kyle Kuzma. Lonzo Ball is the headliner.
Ball impressed tremendously in his summer league displays, particularly being named the ‘new face of the Lakers’ by Magic Johnson. His performances have drawn a variety of comparisons to players like Steve Nash and Jason Kidd, and naturally Magic Johnson, who are pass-first, teammate-centered point guards. His style of play is considered that of a ‘true’ point guard.
Despite being listed as a small forward, LeBron does little to embody that role. His ability to score at ease, and his proficiency assisting at the same rate as the best point guards in the league, makes him seemingly unguardable. During his entire career, he’s dominated the ball for his team.
Lonzo, being a playmaker, requires the same things as LeBron: the ball, and a team of scorers around him. While Kevin Durant would be an ideal fit for Ball because of his ability to score at will without handling the ball, it is unlikely that he will depart the Warriors. It further hints to why the Lakers deem Brandon Ingram as ‘untradeable’, as they hope he transforms into a player similar to Durant himself.
Many argue that LeBron has functioned brilliantly alongside dominant point guards over the years, particularly Kyrie Irving. Putting aside the recent Kyrie and LeBron upheaval, their success together was nothing short of spectacular. What people do forget, though, is the stark contrast between Kyrie’s game and that of a true point guard.
Kyrie has never averaged more than 6.1 assists per game in a season, while his points per game total has never fallen short of 18 points. Kyrie is a scoring guard just like Dwyane Wade, LeBron’s sidekick during his Miami Heat days.
LeBron has never been paired alongside a pass-first point guard, and I do see issues arising here. Should LeBron sustain his regular style of play, Lonzo is likely to see a diminished role, stunting his development and thus the long-term success of the Lakers. Lonzo is neither a shooter nor is he a driver, and thus won’t benefit as much from LeBron’s ability to dish out incredible assists. LeBron’s arrival would result in wasted years for Lonzo Ball at a crucial period in his development.
In no way would this deal set the Lakers up for dethroning the Warriors and Spurs from occupying the top two spots in the West in the long-term. The only alternative to make the arrival of LeBron work, though, is if he transforms himself into a role which he’s never embraced before, just a scorer. There is no reason to suggest that LeBron wouldn’t thrive in this role either, considering his exceptional build and seemingly unstoppable drive. In order to do this, though, LeBron would have to suck up all his ego – not easy for an all-time Top 10 player- considering that the person he’s handing the reins to would just be 20 years old. While this role would reduce LeBron’s maximum utilization, alongside Lonzo Ball it would be the best option for the franchise.
Sadly, the arrival of America’s biggest sports superstar won’t meet the short-term and long-term expectations of the most influential franchise in basketball. Drastic changes would have to take place. LeBron on the Lakers would turn heads but it would never really work.
photo via llananba