Having the best player isn’t always a good thing.
LeBron James is undoubtedly a gift for any franchise. Teams that get “The King” sacrifice all the money, picks, and developing players they have for a run at the title as long as he remains on their roster. It’s instant championship contention talk, a guaranteed playoff trip, and it makes you the home of the center of the basketball universe. It’s close to the best thing that can happen to a franchise.
It’s also one of the worst things that can happen to a franchise. It means media scrutiny on a nightly basis – no matter who it’s about. It means your head coach is never “good enough” no matter what he does. It might even mean trading a couple of your up-and-coming players and some draft picks in order to get veterans that “play better” with LeBron, or even losing a star that feels outshone by The King.
Having LeBron is a gift and a curse.
The second LeBron left Cleveland for Hollywood, a Lakers team that won 35 games last year was immediately expected to fast forward their development process two years in advance and contend for a title. After the wonderful signings of burnt-out role players such as Javale McGee, Lance Stephenson, and Michael Beasley (among others), Los Angeles was suddenly in many analysts’ Western Conference Championship game. Most of the NBA world was all in that Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka has crafted a team specifically to beat the Warriors.
Does something sound wrong about that? Hint: a lot of it is wrong. Since then, the Lakers have gone 29-31, good for 11th place in the Western Conference. The season has been marred with question marks and trade rumors, which have effectively ruined the chemistry between the younger players on the team and LeBron; and put a rift between the front office, LeBron, and the team.
Patience is something LeBron doesn’t understand anymore. He put up with it in his first go-around in Cleveland, and vowed never to wait for championships again when ‘took his talents to South Beach’ in the summer of 2010. Since then, he has been on teams good enough to help him go to The Finals on a yearly basis. In Miami, he was immediately paired up with a prime Dwayne Wade and an all-star in Chris Bosh. Signings like Ray Allen and Mike Miller paid off incredibly, with them becoming key role players in championships, so, LeBron had found his blueprint for winning titles.
As D-Wade and Bosh got older and couldn’t overcome the Kawhi Leonard-led Spurs, LeBron saw his window to get out of Miami and team up with a younger superstar back in Cleveland – Kyrie Irving.
After being beat by another young, upstart team in the 2015 Finals with Irving and star forward Kevin Love sidelined, LeBron finally gave Cleveland their title in 2016 alongside Kyrie, who scored 41 points and hit the game-winning shot in a classic game seven.
Even with his career-defining performance in the finals, Kyrie wasn’t satisfied with playing second-fiddle in the organization that drafted him. A re-vamped Golden State acquired Kevin Durant and essentially beat Kyrie out of Cleveland in the 2017 Finals, and so began the downfall of another franchise at the expense of The King.
LeBron was given complete control of the roster in what would be his final year in Cleveland, and made as many moves as he could to contend. Long story short, the immediacy that takes place when you have LeBron eventually bit Cleveland in the ass, as he left for L.A. this summer – leaving behind a roster of misfit players that LeBron convinced himself could replicate the success of his Miami signings.
Cleveland now finds itself dwelling in a land of mediocrity, as does Miami. LeBron destroyed the roster in order to compete, signing role players to single-year contracts and trading for fresh players who have either left the Cavs or stuck around because the organization can’t get rid of them.
Does Los Angeles want to become the next Cleveland? Something tells me that Magic Johnson doesn’t want to settle for a slight chance at a title with a clearly aging LeBron and then dwell in the cellar of the West for five years after.
With the constant trade rumors, the berating of Luke Walton, and the shady comments often coming from James himself, LeBron has managed to do more bad than good in Los Angeles. The development of Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma has stalled and been often criticized since LeBron arrived, and Luke Walton has gone from being a good head coach to being on a continuous hot-seat.
Magic Johnson has done an amazing job drafting talented young players to eventually contend for a title. Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma are on the verge of becoming offensive stars in the league, and despite his offensive woes, Lonzo Ball sees the court as well as any guard in the league, and is a top-five defensive guard when he plays. LeBron has tried to push a process along without letting it develop in the first place. Lonzo never gets his hands on the ball to create assists because of LeBron’s demand for the ball, Kuzma and Ingram are investigated on a nightly basis – with fans pointing out every weakness in their respective games and debate shows mentioning their names in trade talks daily, and Luke Walton isn’t allowed to just coach for five minutes without being questioned.
Patience is a virtue, look at D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle — two players that were shipped out of Los Angeles too soon and are now enjoying career years. He needed time – as does this team. The Lakers are one of the better-drafting teams in the league, and instead of falling for LeBron’s shitty “contend now” GM tactics, the Lakers need to take a step back and realize they have a lot of potential in the next ten years.
LeBron has proven time and time again how he ruins franchises after he leaves them, and now a past-prime version of James is about to do the same thing in L.A., but without the title. Is the damage already done, or is there still hope in Hollywood? Whatever the answer is, LeBron might be more damaging to the team than they think.