LeBron is adding another chapter to his great legacy. But should one last run at a title in the Western Conference come at the cost of the Lakers’ future?
Mediocrity and the Los Angeles Lakers are not historically synonymous with one another. Yet here L.A. stands, boasting a 16-21 record so far this season after posting an even-worse 33-49 record in the campaign prior. The championship in the Bubble feels like it happened a world away (in a way, perhaps it did) and with Anthony Davis again sidelined due to injury, where the Lakers go from here feels like anyone’s guess.
A Russell Westbrook trade? Something “smaller”? Something “bigger”? OK…LeBron James almost certainly isn’t on the trade block, regardless of recent comments showcasing frustration with the current state of things in La-La Land. But it does feel like the Lakers are at a fork in the proverbial road. Do they go all-in and improve their odds in the wild Western Conference? Or do they stand pat and hope an eventual AD return puts them over the playoff hump?
Here are the arguments for, and against, a Los Angeles Lakers trade this season.
FOR: LeBron James is unprecedented
In his 20th season, LeBron James is doing things that just about no one in the NBA has ever done at his age — or more specifically, at his experience level in the league. While he isn’t doing it in the most efficient manner (his 119.3 points per 100 shot attempts is his lowest mark scoring since his rookie season) he is taking on far more of the burden of production for his team than anyone playing NBA basketball in their THIRD DECADE should be.
While his scoring is less than desirable in terms of attempts, he remains one of the very best passers in the NBA (98th percentile in assist percentage, 87th percentile in assist-to-usage ratio — which is staggering since his usage is in the 98th percentile as well) and his turnover percentage is the lowest it has been since the 2009-2010 season.
The Lakers are 3.5 points better offensively and 4.7 points better defensively with James on the floor. And he is logging 36 minutes per game. At the age of 38.
You can argue it would be irresponsible of the Lakers to NOT trade to get LeBron, who even Dirk Nowitzki feels may be better than Michael Jordan soon, more help in pursuit of another title run.
With the semi-resurgence of Russell Westbrook in his sixth-man role, perhaps a deal involving him isn’t required. But Patrick Beverley, Kendrick Nunn, and one of the Lakers’ first-round picks in either 2027 or 2029 (years when James almost certainly will be gone from the league) for Eric Gordon of the Rockets? Buddy Hield or Myles Turner of the Pacers? Some smaller contracts to acquire multiple players? There are possibilities in the middle ground that could add a fourth or even fifth key contributor to this Lakers team, getting them at least into the play-in conversation.
The Lakers are just roughly four games out of the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference. In an NBA landscape where parity rules more than ever before — and LeBron James and Anthony Davis, when healthy, are two of the 10 or so best basketball players in the world — wouldn’t it make sense just to make it to the dance and see what happens?
The funny thing about GOATs is there are very few of them. LeBron James is one. When he’s still there, and able to play at this level, you must do your best to maximize the window. The future can wait. The opportunity with one of the best in history is now.
AGAINST: The bell tolls for us all — even the Lakers
Picture this — LeBron James pulls off the improbable. He gets the Lakers to the No. 6 seed after L.A. acquires Buddy Hield via trade with Indiana at the trade deadline. L.A. enters a series against the No. 3-seeded Denver Nuggets. Nikola Jokic is too much for the Lakers, and LeBron’s squad is out in six games.
Or the third seed is the Memphis Grizzlies, and no one can defend Ja Morant. Or the third seed is the New Orleans Pelicans (Zion Williamson), or they’re the Dallas Mavericks (Luka Doncic), or the Phoenix Suns (Devin Booker).
Get the picture?
No one the Lakers can realistically acquire will put them in a position to address a larger issue than even their below-average offense…their worse defense. L.A.’s 115.2 points allowed per 100 possessions has them ranked 24th in the NBA whereas their offense is 19th. Their overall minus-2.1 point differential has them 24th in the league as well. Say the Lakers do go get Buddy Hield and Myles Turner from the Pacers for Russell Westbrook and the 2027 and 2029 first round picks. Will they get the Lakers over the hump to their championship goal? Or Bradley Beal, whose offensive exploits are obvious — he would not solve their defensive woes.
The sum of Hield and Turner makes more sense perhaps than one star in Beal (assuming the solidly in the Eastern Conference playoff picture Indiana Pacers still are interested in such things). But again … Patrick Beverley-Buddy Hield-LeBron James-Anthony Davis-Myles Turner-Austin Reaves-Lonnie Walker-Troy Brown as an eight-man playoff rotation against the best the west has to offer … is that a title contender?
And if the answer is possibly, or even probably, no, is it worth paying the future of your franchise to find out for sure?
At some point, you must accept what you are. The LeBron/AD era secured one title for the Lakers, but even with LeBron’s greatness, the league moves past everyone at some point. Perhaps 10 years ago LeBron could have done this with the cast he currently has. But those days are gone … and between Anthony Davis’ injury concerns and the lack of quality depth beyond him going “all-in” could cost the Lakers for a decade to come.
The Lakers are in a tough spot — one where doing nothing, and doing something, are both right and wrong at the same time. But when LeBron is on your roster, the future is far less important than the now. Expect the Lakers to make a move to get him help — for better or worse.
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