The All-Star break is now in the books and the second half of the season is set to resume Thursday. If the playoffs started today the Lakers who are currently 10th in the western conference would find them out of the playoff picture. The final 25 games of the season will ultimately define LeBron’s Legacy as a Laker.
When LeBron James joined the Los Angeles Lakers this past summer it was assumed that superstar players would line up for a chance to play with LeBron in LA. This couldn't be further from the truth. The Lakers did not get a meeting with Paul George before he announced he would be staying in OKC. The Spurs were not going to do the Lakers any favors and trade Kawhi Leonard within the conference and make the Lakers stronger. Plus, questions have swirled around how interested Kawhi was in teaming with LeBron anyway. Through back channel reporting it is believed that Kawhi prefers the other LA team the Clippers instead. So the Lakers ended up fielding a team of misfits and castoffs to go along with their promising young players Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Kyle Kuzma.
The start of the season was a rough one for the Lakers. The combination of the young players having to adjust to the high level of expectations, a tough schedule the Lakers started the season 4-6. When LeBron James joins a new team the first season can be like riding a rollercoaster. The ride can be filled with suspense, anticipation, unease, and if you are a coach fear. It's been well documented the run-ins LeBron has had with his coaches. Luke Walton would be no different. The Lakers started the season 2-5 and President Magic Johnson had a meeting with Walton. In this meeting, Adrian Wojnarowski reported it and Dave McMenamin of ESPN that Magic ”admonishes” Luke Walton on the slow start.
As a result of that meeting, Luke Walton has been fighting for his job all season. The front office with the exception of Jennie Buss has not backed Walton. All accounts show that regardless if the Lakers make the playoffs or not Walton will not be back next season. Walton will be another coaching causality, as a result, of coaching one of the greatest players of all time LeBron James.
The Lakers were able to rebound from their slow start going 17-9 in the months of November and December. They were sitting 4th in the west heading into their Christmas day showdown with the Golden State Warriors. They were playing well and then disaster struck. LeBron went down to the floor and got up holding his leg in pain. He would be diagnosed with an injured groining muscle and would miss the next 17 games. The Lakers would struggle mightily without James posting a record of 6-11 and falling out of the playoffs. Since James has returned to the lineup the team has continued to struggle going 2-4 and now sitting 10th in the western conference. Behind the La Clippers and the Sacramento Kings.
The rollercoaster ride that follows James had already taken the Laker organization on a wild ride it was about to get even wilder. On January 28th the “Woj Bomb” was dropped when ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Rich Paul Anthony Davis’s agent had informed the New Orleans Pelicans that he would not resign the with the Pelicans. Davis would be the latest superstar to pass on the opportunity to sign the financially lucrative 5-year supermax contract.
Davis signed with James’s agent Rich Paul of Klutch Sports back in September, and this led to speculation that Davis would eventually be a Laker. Stories started to come out that Davis wanted to be traded to the Lakers. This brought even more drama into the Laker locker room as the roller coaster that is LeBron James picked up even more speed. The Lakers young prospects Ingram, Ball, Kuzma would be on edge until either a deal was done or the trade deadline was over. The Pelicans rejected all of the Lakers offers, and for now, everyone rumored to be involved was staying with their respected teams.
The remaining Lakers schedule is not terribly difficult. They have two games remaining with Milwaukee, one with Raptors, Warriors, Nuggets, and Thunder. They also have one remaining game with the Kings and two games with the Clippers. Both teams are in the Pacific Division with the Lakers, and both teams are ahead of them in the playoff picture. A tie breaker situation could come into play and decide which one of those teams makes the playoffs. The Lakers have to go at least 19-6 in my opinion if they want to make the playoffs. If they do make the playoffs the performance of their young players and how deep they go in the playoffs could impact this summers free agency.
The Pelicans feel that the Laker package they put together for Anthony Davis would be available this summer. What if Ingram, Ball, and Kuzma play well and they make it to the western conference finals before losing to the Warriors in 5 or 6? Would the Lakers now want to keep one or two of those players? What if they do not play well? Would the Pelicans even want to make the trade for any of them? What if the Celtics underachieve and Kyrie wants to leave Boston? Do you now negotiate a sign and trade with Boston for Kyrie? What if Klay Thompson is not offered the max in Golden State? Are the Lakers willing to offer one to Klay and pair alongside LeBron? And the ultimate wild card is what is Kevin Durant going to do? Many Media reports including myself, believe it's either the Knicks or the Clippers.
With so much uncertainty King James, Magic Johnson, and the Lakers organization have a lot riding on these next 25 games. Making the playoffs would be in James’s and the organizations best interest going into this summers loaded free agency. If LeBron and the Lakers are not able to pair him with another superstar this summer what happens next? This could very well go down as one of the most miscalculated moves in history by a superstar player of LeBron James caliber. He is already shaping the narrative if his time in LA does not work out. He was quoted recently as saying he doesn't have anything left to prove. This was a very interesting statement for someone chasing the ghost of Michael Jeffrey Jordan. By all accounts James wants to be remembered as the G.O.A.T., and a failure in LA will definitely affect that argument.
Hopefully, the groin injury won't affect him too much and he's able to put this team on his back and lead them to the playoffs. How he closes out this season may very well have an effect on how he's viewed amongst Laker Nation and where he may ultimately rank as a player in one of the most legendary NBA franchises. The LeBron James Rollercoaster has not disappointed up to this point. So let's buckle up and hold on because these next 25 games are going to be one hell of a ride.