When Lebron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers to join the Los Angeles Lakers last summer, the NBA was abuzz.
James had made eight straight NBA finals appearances, four with the Miami Heat and four with the Cavaliers. Now he was leaving Cleveland to team up with the young core of Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram on one of the most famous and well-known franchises in sports.
NBA legend Magic Johnson was able to lure James to Los Angeles and subsequently surrounded him with solid veteran pickups such as Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, and Javale Mcgee.
Although many NBA pundits believed the Lakers were still a piece or two away from being serious title contenders, experts had them pegged for a playoff berth and possibly making it into the second round.
However, the Lakers’ season slowly spiraled into failure, as they were completely out of the playoff picture by the time the calendar flipped to March.
So that begs the question, what went wrong with Lebron and the Lakers?
One of the biggest derailments to the Lakers’ season were the constant injuries the team had to deal with.
On Christmas Day, the Lakers blew out the two-time defending champion Warriors on the road to improve their record to 20-14 on the year. Los Angeles appeared to be hitting their stride, and were looking like serious playoff contenders.
Unfortunately, during their Christmas Day game against the Warriors, James suffered a groin injury and had to miss considerable time.
James missed seventeen games with that injury as the Lakers went only 6-11 during James’ absence.
James is not the only Laker that has missed considerable time, as Rondo, Ball, and Ingram have all missed significant playing time due to injuries or medical concerns.
Although this Lakers team is talented, it, like many other teams, simply was not built to handle a slew of injuries, especially with their best player , and arguably the best player in the world, missing a fifth of the season.
With so many players out, it’s no wonder that the Lakers have struggled to add to their win column this year.
Another big derailment to the Lakers’ season were the constant trade rumors that swirled around the team and destroyed its trust and chemistry.
During the weeks leading up to the trade deadline, the Lakers were reported to be actively pursuing All-Pro center Anthony Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans.
The Lakers’ offer to the Pelicans reportedly included Ball, Kuzma, Ingram and several draft picks just to acquire Davis.
The reports also suggested James’ high desire to play with Davis, implying that James could have used his star power to pressure the Lakers’ front office into trying to acquire Davis.
Once the trade offer was leaked and declined by the Pelicans, the damage was already done. The Lakers’ chemistry took a huge hit, as many of the younger players felt that they were no longer part of the future plan and they were simply being used as trade bait to acquire other talent.
It’s also extremely hard to focus and put your best foot forward while trade rumours swirl around you. You never know if a particular game will be your last for the historic franchise and with this particular group of teammates, making it hard to play your best. It is because of this it is no surprise that the Lakers have complied an awful record of 4-13 since the trade deadline.
Another big point of failure during the Lakers’ season revolves around the coaching staff and head coach Luke Walton.
Walton is famous for being an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors and helping them build their dynasty, however he has struggled with the Lakers.
Reports have stated that Walton has lost control of the locker room and struggles to keep his players in check.
In fact Marc Stein of the New York Times reported that Walton is “almost certain” to be fired by the Lakers at the end of the season.
This is just another chapter in Lebron James’ feuding with head coaches.
In Cleveland, James ran David Blatt out of town despite a Finals appearance the previous year and owning one of the best records in the NBA at the time of his firing.
Coaching James, an athlete that is almost bigger than the game itself, is a very tough task that only a few can seem to handle. Perhaps a different voice of reason is exactly the remedy the Lakers need in order to get back on track for the next few seasons.
The final and most simple explanation for the Lakers’ struggles is simply maybe James just isn’t the player he used to be.
James is 34 years old and has played 16 seasons in the NBA without missing many games until this season. That has amounted to thousands of minutes in playing time and thousands of hours of training and recovery.
Despite being a great athlete, all of that work is bound to catch up eventually. This can be seen from James missing significant time with injury for the first time in his entire career.
James has also been seen giving lackadaisical efforts on the defensive end of the floor by letting opponents drive by without a challenge and not running to cover open shooters.
The Lakers have recognized this problem and have begun placing James on a minutes restriction in order to ease some of his load on his body. Not many people are going to argue and say that James is a bad player, as he is still averaging 27.5 points per game along with 8.5 rebounds and 8 assists per game.
However, something definitely seems different about “The King” this year, and while he is still a superstar, it seems like he lacks the ability to single-handedly carry a team to the playoffs like he had in years past.
With their loss to the Nets last Friday, the Lakers and James are officially eliminated from playoff contention.
Will Luke Walton coach the
Lakers next season?