When he was the sole light of an average team, Kobe Bryant, in 2005-06, took 1,800 jump shots. In the 3rd and 4th quarters alone, he took 1,178 shots. He averaged 43 points in January and 41 points in April. On back-to-back games, he averaged 34 points. During the Shaq-less one superstar season, Bryant scored 50 points six times, 40+ points twenty one times. The Lakers made the playoffs. It was symbolic. They weren’t contenders, not with a team of Smush Parker and Kwame Brown. But that wasn’t the point. Bryant understood Lakers culture. The playoffs mattered. Get there however you need to.
As the sole light of an average team, LeBron James, in 2018-19, has taken 491 jump shots. In the 3rd and 4th quarters, he has taken 443 shots. He’s averaged 28 points in November and 28 points in March. He has scored 50 points once and 40 points twice. The Lakers are not making the playoffs because LeBron had to do much more. And didn’t. Or, refused to. Same thing any way you slice it. It is the broken arc to the LeBron expectations, plus this sobering irony. Those LeBron mural defacers were prophetic in thier prophecy. He wasn’t going to be the King. Not here.
Last season, when James was desperate to will his team to victories he Kobe-d his year. He took 1,149 jump shots and attempted 150 dunks. In the 3rd and 4th quarters, he attempted 1,032 shots. He averaged 30 points in March and 27 points in February.
To illustrate how far LeBron has fallen from his aggressive norm, look at his shot attempts in the last five minutes in games that were important. Remember, he was the one who said a lack of urgency from the young kids was missing.
- Clippers: 3 shots. 1 free throw. 4 points
- Suns: 3 shots. 2 free throws. 2 points.
- Bucks: 6 shots. 1 free throw. 8 points
- Pelicans: 3 shots. 3 free throws. 6 points.
- Grizzlies: 3 shots. 5 free throws. 6 points.
- Pelicans: 1 shot. 0 free throws. 2 points.
Kobe Bryant tore his Achilles trying to get the Lakers in the 2013 playoffs, playing 47 minutes (Sacramento), 47 minutes (Dallas), 42 minutes (Memphis), 47 minutes, (Clippers), 41 minutes (New Orleans), 48 minutes (Portland), and the final game against the Warriors where he played 44 minutes and hit two free throws with a torn Achilles. The Lakers did not expect or sign-off on Kobe sacrificing his body for a playoff spot but they applauded his willingness to want to sacrifice his body, to fetishize winning at all costs, even if it meant personal disaster.
Disaster is here for LeBron and it brings to my mind earlier in the year when he declared himself the GOAT because he brought a title to Cleveland. What he was really saying was his championship moment in 2016 was so iconic it automatically ended all arguments on merit and he should never be judged as less than Michael Jordan. But if that was the case, a Cleveland title ending all debate, why leave? Why vault himself into the rare air of Lakers legends only to come crashing to a catastrophic hole in the ground?
It’s not that LeBron isn’t playing well. He is. He just isn’t leading. He isn’t carrying his team. He is doing what good players do and not doing what great players do. He has checked out emotionally. He says all the right things as the losses pile up- that is- when he’s not finger pointing. His lips are moving and his eyes are flat. Dead. Uninterested. He has passed frustrated a long time ago. Now he is here: the walking dead.
When he was introduced at media day six months back, LBJ admitted there would be adversity. Like a professor schooling his class, he told the media a team learns about each other during crises. Here we are in the middle of a crises but have the Lakers learned anything except every single move they made was a bust? Lance Stephenson. Michael Beasley. Mike Muscala. They can’t even entice Melo to this three ring circus, even as it would help Melo be seen and get a job for next year. The thing about a sinking ship is no one wants to be a part of it.
This disaster of a season will be part of the LeBron James legacy. What goes up, comes down. Less is not more. Where the young kids where blamed for the lack of details and skill and for not understanding the game early in the season, in this, the winter of the LeBron discontent, he is the one who is going down in flames. And the scary part? The Lakers likelihood of a getting a star to play next to LeBron James is looking pretty grim.