The Los Angeles Lakers did not see themselves or especially LeBron James where they are right now, lottery bound and without their President of Basketball Operations in Magic Johnson. James experienced, arguably, the worst year of his career which was marked by injury and internal strife. Aside from these debacles, James remained productive and is looking forward to bouncing back in a major way in 2019-2020.
Scoring and Not Scoring
By the numbers, LeBron had a season that the average player would dream of. He poured in his usual 27.4 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 8.3 assists per game. He passed Michael Jordan in all-time scoring this season with 32,543 points. He’s still a high-level and high-volume scorer, pouring in two 50-point performances against the Portland Trail Blazers and Miami Heat.
We all anticipated the Lakers going as LeBron would go. This was true, as reflected by their poor free-throw shooting. They were ranked 29th in free-throw shooting and James shot the worst percentage of his career at 66.5 percent. His abysmal shooting even cost the Lakers some crucial wins.
Is it repetition? Maybe it’s a matter of focus. The ball will be in his hands to end the game more times than not over the next two years (possibly three). It’s going to take some real reflection and improvement to secure games from the charity stripes.
LeBron spent 27 games in high fashion outfits and his signature shoes on the sidelines and the time away crushed the Lakers playoff hopes. The last major injury that cost James significant basketball time was when he broke his wrist during AAU play in the summer of 2002. He was sidelined for 6-8 weeks, according to ESPN.
Strained groins are susceptible to lingering effects that are magnified when combined with high mileage. LeBron has played in 1,198 games totaling 46,235 minutes in the regular season. On top of that, James broke his 13-year playoff streak and eight NBA Finals run that included 10,049 minutes. James never seemed to regain the pop he needed to get the Lakers back into the playoff race when he returned against the Clippers, not seeming fully healthy until just before he was shut down for the last few games of the season.
For the first time ever, LeBron was hampered by injury. The freak accident should serve as a notice to the Lakers’ front office that you can’t waste another moment on experiments. LeBron knows that his approach from a physical standpoint will have to change going into year 17. The Lakers must do their part to take care of him during this last stretch of basketball.
Chemistry, Where Art Thou?
Injuries affected everyone that mattered on the Lakers. JaVale McGee got pneumonia. Brandon Ingram had ankle and blood clot issues. Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma had ankle injuries. Rajon Rondo broke his hand.
One of the bigger question marks was how LeBron would fit with Lonzo Ball. The two were clicking in the early part of the season. They made history recording triple-doubles against the Charlotte Hornets.
The best game of the year came against the Golden State Warriors on Christmas Day. LeBron’s focus was notably different and the rest of the team followed suit. They scratched the surface of their potential. It was amazing to see the sample of production that they got from their ragtag bunch of players. LeBron was the biggest part of the resurgence.
The Lakers sat at 20-14 after the game where LeBron went down. Even sadder, they were 15-8 with Ball, Ingram, and James healthy. This was a pace that would’ve got them into playoffs, and been enough cologne to cover the stink that’s hovered the team over the course of the season’s end. The trade rumors were the primary cause of this odor.
LeBron was the cog in the issues, unfortunately. His Klutch Sports connection with Anthony Davis amplified the team’s desire to acquire the big man. When the New Orleans Pelicans would not bite on taking all of the Lakers core, the rejection changed the team. Much of the mess was laid at LeBron’s feet.
Next season’s team health and cohesion is more important than any roster move that the Lakers can make next season.
Leading A Rare Pursuit
If you give my franchise maximum cap space and LeBron James, I’ll take it 100 times out of 100. The Lakers are in a unique position to right the wrongs of this season’s roster construction and front office instability.
As a franchise, you can’t strike out two summers when you have a top-two basketball player of all-time. The Los Angeles pressure makes the plan harder to execute. All the whispers about James being the last guy to team up with are deafening. Who’s going to be the guy to take the ride?
Jimmy Butler? Kemba Walker? Or an unexpected old friend by the name of Kyrie Irving? This time around, James will be on the other side of the recruiting table.
Hope to Come
LeBron has an insane competitive nature. The basketball world knows he’s pissed off and wants to unleash his frustrations on the world. While his off the court ventures will occupy his summer, the rest will be all about rest and basketball.
As mentioned, the roster should be overhauled and tailored to maximize all of LeBron’s talents. Their young core will also be another year older with more to offer alongside him. There’s also the possibility of acquiring an all-star in free-agency.
The last two times James changed teams led to turbulent first seasons. James has captured a championship in year two each time. To put those expectations on the Lakers seems unfair, but this is a testament to James talent and resilience.
Imagine a fresh LeBron with a boulder-sized chip on his shoulder.
It’s going to be hell to pay.