Much has been made about the Los Angeles Lakers’ free agency signings after LeBron James for good reason. The team as constituted features veteran journeymen next to young, unproven players.
Among the most notable issues for the Lakers is the center position. The team signed former Warriors big man JaVale McGee but lost both Julius Randle and Brook Lopez in free agency. The Lakers are seemingly approaching the center position as a “by committee” spot with McGee, Ivica Zubac, and rookie Moritz Wagner the only true fives on the roster.
But the Lakers may also have a secret weapon with James who can slot in as a small-ball center on occasion. According to Bleacher Report’s Eric Pincus, the Lakers have already begun throwing around the idea of the 16-year veteran playing in the middle:
Nothing about that trio should inspire confidence. Instead, the Lakers’ best and only choice may be to deploy James as a small-ball center.
“We may not see this on day one, but the coaching staff is eager to see our version of the [Warriors’] Death Lineup with Lonzo [Ball], Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram, [Kyle] Kuzma and LeBron,” a second Lakers executive said.
Every team in the NBA deploys small ball lineups at this point but few can be as effective as one with James. That said, LeBron has not always been receptive to playing above his position due to concerns about the toll it would take on his body.
James has played approximately one percent of his total possessions at the center position throughout his career but found great success there in Miami. In his final two seasons with the Heat, James played at the five spot seven percent of the time, according to Basketball-Reference. Luke Walton has shown an affinity to playing small-ball with Randle in particular being used as a center in that role last season.
LeBron will not be playing the five full-time – he’s already likely to start at power forward – but the minutes that the Lakers can get out of him there could be huge. As long as they surround him with enough strong positional defenders, the Lakers could see a huge positive impact when James slides up a position.