To use poker vernacular, the Los Angeles Lakers have pushed all their chips into the pot hoping to eek out a gut-shot straight. And the odds aren't in their favor.
Now before I get called out as a hater, let me preface this by saying LeBron James is the best player in this generation and one of the top ten players in NBA history. His numbers speak for themselves. His accolades are well documented and well deserved. But I’m one of the few Laker fans that thought bringing LeBron in was a bad idea from the beginning. I believed in letting the young players get another year under their belts and targeting the free agent class this summer. Instead, Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka gave Lebron James Incorporated the keys.
With Lebron you get a once in a generational talent, but you also get enough baggage to fill a cruise ship. Drama surrounds any team he’s on. Luke Walton has been under fire all year. The veterans they signed have caused turmoil in the locker room. A failed trade for Anthony Davis made the front office the butt of jokes. Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, and Lonzo Ball have been left to question their futures as chants of “LeBron’s gonna trade you” fill opposing arenas.
James told the L.A. Times, “There’s nothing I need to get in this league that I don’t already have. Everything else for me is just like icing on the cake.” Something like that doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. It sounds like someone who came to Los Angeles for something else other than just winning.
There’s also a sad irony when James questions the dedication of his teammates when he asked, “Basketball, is that the most important thing while we’re doing this? Is it the most important thing in your life at this time? If you feel like you’re giving it all to the game, then you can do other things. But if you feel like you’re not giving as much as you can, then you can’t focus on anything else.” James has a TV show, a sequel to Space Jam in the works, and an album with 2 Chains dropping today. Who's really the one that's distracted?
Maybe that’s why Kyrie Irving wanted out of Cleveland a few years ago. Maybe that’s why Paul George decided to resign with the Thunder this past summer. Maybe that’s why most rumors that surround upcoming free agents like Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, or Klay Thompson don’t link them to the Lakers. When LeBron’s team wins, it’s because of LeBron's efforts. When they lose, it must be all the other guys' fault. It takes a certain kind of player to play with James. They’ll be asked to play like Batman, but settle for always being Robin.
So now, the Lakers are 30-31 and outside the playoff chase looking in. They are only five games better than they were at this time last season. One could argue they’re actually worse than they were last year. Last year, there was a semblance of a plan and a course of action.
Now, all of Laker Nation will spend the rest of year and into the summer sweating out the river card.