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LeBron’s Disappointing First Season in LA

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This past offseason, the Los Angeles Lakers landed the biggest name in free agency– LeBron James.

LA was extremely thrilled, believing the dark days were over and that the Lakers would soon be in title contention again. That wasn’t quite the case this year. It’s easy to say LeBron’s first season in purple and gold didn’t quite go as expected. Leading up to 2019, the Lakers were starting to play well together, sitting comfortably in the Western Conference’s 4th seed.

It was on Christmas Day where LeBron suffered a strained groin that sidelined him for 17 games. The season had pretty much gone downhill after this point. The Lakers struggled mightily during James’ absence, compiling only a 6-11 record. The Lakers endured many other injuries throughout the season, having lost many key players such as Rajon Rondo, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram for significant portions of the season. There is no question that injuries contributed to much of the Lakers’ downfall of a season. After James’ return from injury, the Lakers now had to dig themselves out of a hole in order to make it to the postseason.

Looking Beyond Injuries

Though injuries did play a huge role in setting the Lakers back in the playoff hunt, there are plenty of other factors that contributed to their disappointing season. The question being asked over and over prior to the 2018-19 season was “where are the shooters?” Lakers GM Rob Pelinka and President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson were very adamant that the shooters were already here– that being the young core.

The plan during the offseason was to sign “high IQ and tough players.” The idea was that they wanted to bring in smart players that could take some of the offensive weight off LeBron. In theory this idea made sense, but history has already shown that LeBron needs certified shooters around him.

LeBron’s Offense

LeBron has also been most successful when he is running the offense. The blueprints for LeBron’s success has been laid out for years, yet the Lakers’ front office wanted to try a different approach. Signing Rondo seemed fine. Bringing in a high IQ player with championship experience to help run the second unit seemed very formidable. Even the signing of JaVale McGee was somewhat understandable considering the Lakers’ need for a true big man.

But signing Michael Beasley and Lance Stephenson? This left many scratching their heads. There is no doubt that the front office made some mistakes in the roster construction. The Lakers didn’t look like a team, but rather a group of random individuals that were expected to mesh well together.

Per Bill Oram of The Athletic, Lakers head coach Luke Walton was begging Magic Johnson to bring Brook Lopez and Julius Randle back. Both of those players ultimately did not re-sign, which is unfortunate because both of them are playing exceptionally well this year. Lopez would’ve been a perfect fit being a center that could stretch the floor and knock down threes. Randle would’ve been an ideal center for their small ball lineup.

Questionable Trade

Another questionable move the front office made was trading Ivica Zubac for Mike Muscala. It seems as though the Lakers FO finally understood the need to put shooters around LeBron, so theoretically this trade made sense, but Muscala is on the backend of his career while Zubac is only 21 years old. Laker fans were very upset about this trade and the front office should definitely be kicking themselves after seeing how Muscala has fared with the team.

Coaching?

Luke Walton definitely deserves some blame for the Lakers’ performance (or lack thereof). As the head coach, he has a responsibility of bringing the team together and coming up with a plan that’ll help put them in position to be successful. For majority of the year, that wasn’t the case. Though he has made questionable calls and put together strange lineup rotations, you can’t fault him too much when you look at the amount of injuries they’ve had to deal with. The question isn’t whether or not he is a good coach, but rather if he’s the right coach for LeBron. Unfortunately for Walton, his chances of returning as head coach are slim to none.

The Failed Attempt to Get AD

Some may question LeBron’s tactfulness and wonder if sometimes he can be too honest. Leading up to the trade deadline, there were many rumors swirling the acquisition of Anthony Davis in exchange for much of the Lakers’ young core plus future draft picks.

LeBron was extremely open about wanting to play with AD. Even though the trade didn’t happen, all of the outside noise ultimately damaged the team’s chemistry. Yes, it’s a business and yes, the players should be prepared for things like this, but it might be difficult to play next to a teammate when the ongoing narrative is that he just tried trading you. Not only that, but he has also pointed out things that his teammates may have done wrong rather than answering interview questions as a collective. Ideally, a good leader would want to support your teammates and shoulder the majority of the blame. Things like this is what causes divides in the locker room.

The Shop

New member of the soon to be Las Vegas Raiders, Antonio Brown made an appearance on LeBron’s HBO show, “The Shop.” On the show, Brown explained his frustration with his former quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for repeatedly blaming him for team losses during post game interviews. LeBron was appalled to hear that Roethlisberger would do that and soon then came to Brown’s defense. It seems that LeBron may have not have been self-aware that he had been involved in the same type of behavior. Being critical of LeBron is not easy, but in this case he seems to be a bit hypocritical. Teammates should be held accountable, but that conversation should be held behind closed doors rather than in front of a camera.

GM James?

There is also the notion that LeBron is your GM and coach to a certain degree. At times, we can see why this could be true. LeBron comes with an immense amount of skill and attention. With the amount of talent that he brings, there is no question that he has some say when it comes to roster construction and the coaching staff. Many Laker fans have been indifferent in accepting him as a true Laker because of this. He is also involved in other ventures off the court such as TV shows and movies.

Though that may all be true, there is no question that he is one of the best in the NBA if not the best right now. He is in the conversation for one of the best to ever touch a basketball, so it’s only right that he has some sway when it’s all said and done.

What’s Next

With the playoffs now out of the equation, the Lakers have pretty much accepted their fate. Since then, they have cut LeBron’s minutes and called up several players from the South Bay Lakers. Once the season comes to a close, the Lakers will then shift their focus to the offseason to hopefully land another big name in free agency. LeBron’s first season as a Laker did come as a bit of a disappointment to say the least. Good news is, this is only year 1 of 4. There is still plenty of time for improvement, so hopefully the Lakers come together and come back making noise in the western conference next season.

This season definitely did not go how Laker Nation thought it would– but this was just a test trial year. There is no question that the roster will look different next season, whether it be ridding the one-year contracts or acquiring free agents in the summer. The sky is the limit for the Lakers, and the potential for them to be back in contention next season is definitely forthcoming.

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