A season that started out with so much hope in Los Angeles came to an end Tuesday night against the Lakers’ I-10 rivals, the Phoenix Suns, 121-110. The Lakers have three remaining games on the schedule, but the 11-point loss to the Suns eliminated LA from play-in contention. So, the Lakers have absolutely nothing left to play for over these last few days of the regular season other than pride.
LeBron James sat out last night’s loss to Phoenix with a bad ankle, and I’d be surprised if we saw him on the court again this season. I mean, what’s the point, right? James was leading the NBA in scoring until Joel Embiid went out and dropped 45 points against the Pacers last night in a 131-122 victory. That performance by Embiid combined with James not playing propelled Joel “the troll” past King James for the scoring lead at 30.4ppg.
So, with the Lakers’ playoff hopes completely shot and LeBron’s second scoring title likely out of reach now, it’s time for him and the Lakers organization to look at what went wrong this year and how they fix it. It’s easy to blame James for many of the moves made by the team since he arrived in Los Angeles in 2018. But someone granted LeBron this alleged power to play “co-general manager” like he’s done everywhere else he’s played in the NBA. So, Jeanie Buss and Rob Pelinka need to take on some of the blame right alongside James. This debacle was a team effort if I’ve ever seen one.
Sure, we could mention the Russell Westbrook trade, and that cost the Lakers three good players, two of which helped LA win championship No. 17 in 2020. We can also mention how the Westbrook deal squashed an agreement that was already in place for the Lakers to acquire three-point sharpshooter Buddy Hield from the Sacramento Kings. No one ever said Hield is a better player than Russ. No. But he would have been a better fit for this team that could have used a consistent deep ball sniper-like Hield. DeMar DeRozan also wanted to head home to LA to become a Laker. Nothing was guaranteed there, but DeRozan was interested until he visited the Lakers organization.
What’s happening with the Lakers seems to be a recurring theme for James over the last 12 years now. Ever since leaving Cleveland the first time, it’s been a string of four-year stints for James. Somewhere in the middle, his teams win at least one title, then by year four, things begin to fall apart, then James is onto the next destination. We’re now at the end of season four in this episodic adventure that is LeBron James’ career. Although, this time, I don’t see him packing up and heading for another city.
In 2014, the Miami Heat culture wasn’t enough in the NBA Finals to make it much of a series against the San Antonio Spurs. The Heat flamed out in five games to the Spurs, and James was soon on his way back to Cleveland just weeks later. James left, and Miami fell apart the following year, winning just 37 games after winning 54 the previous season. In James’ second Cleveland stint, they went to four NBA Finals in a row, winning the Cavs’ first NBA title in year two. After that fourth season of 2017-18, James headed west for Hollywood. The Cavs are just now recovering from that departure, making the postseason this year for the first time since James bounced (a second time) in 2018.
LeBron has a reputation for destroying a team’s roster and rebuilding it to his liking with mostly veteran players; then, once he’s moved on, those teams are left devoid of young talent. But this time, he’ll be sticking around after the destruction. Blame whomever you want. It’s time for Lakers’ management to take back control of their franchise. They had 16 championships before James ever thought about moving to LA.
The first thing the Lakers need to do is figure out what they’re going to do about Anthony Davis. Yes, this is a higher priority than Westbrook. It’s going to be hell moving Westbrook if that’s the route they even want to go. But there’s still value in Davis’ stock on the trade market. Davis is 29 years old, he’s finishing up year 10 in the league, and he’s only played 75 games twice in his career. Davis had a down year. And it wasn’t just because of the injuries. He just hasn’t played like the top 10 player he was once considered. But we know that injuries are at least part of the concern with Davis.
LA needs to decide on either trading Davis this offseason or riding it out and to watch his value likely continue to plummet. Of course, you never get equal value for trading a star, but a star is no good to the team if he’s constantly sidelined due to injury. Unless the Lakers can talk Portland into shipping out Damian Lillard or maybe Washington for Bradley Beal, LA would have to settle for taking pretty good role players, and draft picks for Davis. James wouldn’t like this, but at this point, the Lakers need to begin preparing for post LeBron in LA. He’ll probably play a couple more years, but the Lakers don’t want to end up like the Heat, Cavs, or even themselves after Kobe Bryant retired.
Aside from James, any and everybody should be on notice. Nobody, not even Davis, should feel like their spot with the Lakers is untouchable. This team desperately needs to get younger. Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony, Trevor Ariza, Wayne Ellington, D.J. Augustin, Kent Bazemore, and Avery Bradley are all expendable. Every one of these players is 31 or older. Five of them, not including James, are at least 34 years old. Now that we’ve seen an entire season of this experiment, we know it doesn’t work.
So, why not blow this thing up and start over? Get a little younger and surround James with better-fitting pieces? If the Lakers bring back most of this same roster next season, they won’t compete in their own division. Forget about the conference. The Lakers should be grateful to have the Sacramento Kings in the same division. Think about this. The Lakers will finish the year more than 30 games behind first-place Phoenix. That isn’t very Laker-like.
Forget “showtime” or “winning time.” The time has come for the Lakers to keep it real with themselves. It’s go time. Meaning just about everyone on this team can go somewhere else. It’s time to hit the reset button in LA. There’s no other way around it.