After LeBron James announced in July 2018 that he’d signed for the Los Angeles Lakers, expectations shot right up for the franchise and they were one of the favourites to win the Larry O’Brien championship trophy this season.
Without LeBron in the 2017/18 NBA season, the Lakers finished 11th in the Western Conference with a record of 35-47. Fast forward a year, and with nine games left of their season, they’re sitting 11th with a record of 32-41.
The self-proclaimed King James wasn’t the only high profile star signed during the summer off-season. They picked up Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee, Michael Beasley and Tyson Chandler alongside LeBron. So with an all-star roster like this, plus highly-rated youngsters on their books too, where has this year gone so wrong for the Lakers?
LeBron’s lengthy lay-off
On Christmas Day, LeBron and his Lakers side faced the toughest possible trip, Golden State Warriors at the Oracle Arena. It was a test they passed with flying colours, cleaning up in Oakland and taking home the W in a 127-101 victory.
But despite that result, it was the game that would see their season start to fall apart. LeBron suffered a left groin strain, leaving mid-way through the game and not returning. At first, it wasn’t expected to be an injury that would keep him out for too long, but he’d miss the next 17.
In that time, the Lakers dropped from a record of 20-14, fourth in the Western Conference, to a 26-25 record, dropping out of the play-off spots. The level of ability in the rest of the squad was highlighted in this time, with some shocking defeats.
New York Knicks and LeBron’s former employers Cleveland Cavaliers have consistently been two of the worst sides all season, but that didn’t stop the pair brushing the Lakers aside within nine days at the start of January in his absence.
A confused squad, disrespected
In the games he’s played, LeBron hasn’t actually had a bad season of it, especially if you analyse his stats. Through his 53 games played this season, he’s averaged over 27 points per game, grabbing more than eight rebounds and dishing out eight assists per night.
But the rest of the squad haven’t been given the game time to gel as a team, haven’t helped each other through the difficult times, and haven’t been given a chance to settle into the franchise. The biggest example of this? Michael Beasley.
At the end of last season, after another dismal year for the Knicks, Beasley had been one of very few bright sparks for the Knickerbockers franchise. He’d been averaging just over 13 points per game in very few minutes, with just under six boards a night too. These numbers may not sound like much, but for a player in a struggling side, they were big.
Lakers signed him in free agency and immediately had no idea what to do with him. Along with Stephenson, Rondo, McGee and Chandler, the Lakers had brought in experience to push, while letting other talents such as Brook Lopez, Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell go in the build up to their push for LeBron’s arrival. All three players have gone on to have career years at their respective clubs.
Highly-rated draft picks Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram saw their game time reduced in favour of the veterans brought in during the off-season, though when given their chances by Coach Luke Walton, they usually took them, Kuzma especially with his 41 point career high in a win against Detroit Pistons.
In a sour turn for the future of the franchise, they were unwillingly put in the shop window by the Lakers backroom team. They’d been pursuing New Orleans Pelicans centre Anthony Davis in a move to create a strong core to the squad alongside James.
For AD to join, the Lakers were rumoured to have offered Ball, Kuzma, Ingram, Rondo, Stephenson, Bradley Beasley and two 1st-round draft picks. In return, they’d only get The Brow and vet Solomon Hill. The team morale was shot, especially since the young players felt unwanted and of little value to the franchise.
Inconsistency at home, travel sickness on the road
Last season, both sides in the NBA Finals ended their regular seasons with 29-12 records at home, creating a fortress at their respective arenas. LeBron’s Cavs struggled on the road and did rely on their home form to get them to the Finals, ending with a 21-20 record on the road.
The Warriors went 29-12 away from the Oracle Arena too, were levels above anyone else in the league and ended the season with a 58-24 record. Not their best campaign, but you still saw flashes of champions.
In stark contrast, the Lakers this season have travelled rough. Currently sat on a 13-24 road record, they’d need an almost immaculate home record to see them progress to the post-season. But they’ve struggled to turn the Staples Centre into a fortress too, with a 19-17 home record.
With the play-offs officially ruled out after a defeat to the Brooklyn Nets, what do they do next? Let LeBron rest up and come back fresh for the next season? Who do they trade for in the summer? Does LeBron stay in Hollywood? It’ll be an interesting off-season for Lakers fans, and if they get it right this time, it could be a worrying summer break for rival supporters.
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