The Lakers don’t have a number two, a Robin to LeBron James Batman, a 1A, a destroyer LeBron can trust. The consequence of having average to above average young talent and pretending they are more than they have proven to be wastes everything LeBron James is and does on a night to night basis. Practically, LeBron has no one who can pick up the slack when he has an off game, or when he is being smothered by the defense, or when he just wants to rest. No one takes over and allows James cover.
But because of his recent December play, Kyle Kuzma is being slotted into a role he cannot fulfill, based on illusions of grandeur. Yes, he has picked it up in December. 22.9points. +10.1. 118 Offensive Rating with a similar usage rate in November and October. 52% field goals. He has more offensive rebounds In December than in October and November. So, it’s a good month for Kuz. But he isn’t an All-Star. He still struggles on the road. When LeBron has off nights, or when things are getting dicey, Kuzma doesn’t take over the game. He doesn’t take over because he can’t. He’s not All-NBA. He’s not going to the All-Star game in Charlotte. He’s a nice young player, the best of the Lakers core. But that’s it. This is Kyle Kuzma year two.
The Lakers find themselves between a rock and a hard place. They want to win a title with James. But they can’t win a title without two more All-NBA players. Those players aren’t just hanging around waiting on Magic Johnson to open his arms and checkbook and whistle. NBA players have changed. Where the Lakers used to mean something, not so much. Like filet mignon, the Lakers and everything they bring are not for everybody.
Kawhi Leonard isn’t in love with the Lakers bright lights and Kevin Durant has openly stated the LeBron James environment is toxic. That leaves Anthony Davis.
Except. Anthony Davis is still under contract. Even if he informs the New Orleans Pelicans he wants out, the Pelicans are under no obligation to deal him to the Lakers and make their team worse while the Lakers have their dreams answered. Why would they trade Anthony Davis for Lonzo Ball,Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, Kyle Kuzma? None of them have illustrated through their play that they will be anything more than role players. If you trade Davis, you have to get back an All-Star or someone on the fringes like Victor Oladipo was in OKC. The Lakers don’t have anyone close to that right now. They are too young and inexperienced. The young core’s game is nowhere near the level of equal value when trading for an elite player.
But, hey, this is what LeBron James signed up for. He wanted to be in L.A. so he is in L.A. It checked off his bucket list to play in Staples. But the tide has turned on James from his Miami days. The prospect of playing with him isn’t as appealing as it used to be. A lot has to do with James style. He holds the ball while surveying the court, waiting for open teammates but the game isn’t really played that way anymore. There is a reason the Lakers are not a top-10 assist team and James is the main reason why. He dribbles and then dishes. It’s maddening to watch, particularly as a lot of those dishes are missed shots.
LeBron called the possibility of Anthony Davis in a Lakers uniform “amazing.” He knows no one on the Lakers has anything close to equal talent. James didn’t have an accurate assessment of what it would be like with young players, even a good young player like Kuzma. It can be exhausting. So, yes, Davis as a teammate would be amazing. But what would really be amazing is for LeBron to do what Dwyane Wade did. Take a step back and defer to the younger player Davis.
What’s perfect about a Davis and LeBron pairing is that Davis doesn’t need to dominate the ball to be brilliant. LeBron does and so the pairing would more than work.
Other James pairings not so much. You can’t blame elite players like Kyrie who want more ownership of the offense, what LeBron keeps for himself and then plays shocked when his co-star is unhappy. Elite players don’t want to be Plan B when LeBron is resting in the corner, or on the bench, or just not feeling it. They don’t want to be his subordinate.
The fact is you don’t have to play with LeBron James to win a title. 7 out of the last 10 champions had someone other than LeBron as the trophy bearer. Lakers. Lakers. Dallas. Spurs. Warriors. Warriors. Warriors.
Which brings us back to Kyle Kuzma. He is doing what second year players need to do. He is establishing what he can do on the court and doing it consistently. But he is far from an elite player and frankly he may never be.
It points to trouble for the Lakers who may be stuck with Kuzma, Ingram, Ball and Hart as LeBron’s collective #2. Promising players but no one that’s going to get LeBron back to the Western Conference Finals.