LeBron is not the savior Lakers and their fans hoped for
Despite the enormous amount of hype after signing with Los Angeles, LeBron James has proven he is not the key to success the Lakers had hoped for. Coming into this season, the prevailing thought was that LeBron would be capable of leading the young, untested Laker squad from the cellar of the Western Conference to the playoff mix. However, those lofty goals have not come to fruition with Laker nation’s optimism quickly shifting to hopes for next year as their postseason aspirations have all but been squashed. The team’s performance this season has led to questions about Lebron’s positive effect, or lack thereof, on the team and how they should proceed moving forward.
A common criticism of Lebron this season has been his negative contribution to the chemistry of the Lakers roster. He has seemingly shifted his philosophy of being a team player and leaving his thoughts out of the press to openly rebuking his teammates to the media post game. With his team not having a winning record and losing games against teams with worse records than their own, James remarked in a Feb. 24th Washington Post article, “Basketball — is that the most important thing? Why we doing this? Is this the most important thing in your life at this time? . . . If you feel you gave it all [in that game], then you have nothing to look back on. You can go on and 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’ comments come as a diatribe of sorts to a team he seems to believe does not understand the amount of effort it takes to win consistently in the NBA.
Although much of the blame can be attributed to the supporting cast and their lack of maturity and urgency, the distractions James has caused by recruiting his friend and fellow All-Star, Anthony Davis, cannot be negated. His not-so-subtle attempts to win over Davis and the Pelicans by trading away the Lakers' young core could not have helped the chemistry that the squad was still trying to form. In an effort to distance himself from the repercussions of his actions, LeBron pointed to a need to act professionally and not let the past dictate the team’s play in the future. He echoed this sentiment to Rachel Nichols of ESPN, stating, “At this point, if you are still allowing distractions to affect the way you play, then this is the wrong franchise to be a part of … Just come and do your job,“ as quoted in a Feb. 26th Newsweek article. James has not shown a willingness to take ownership of his own faults of the Lakers' struggles and that may very well be what is hindering the team the most.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Lebron’s performance on the Lakers this season is the shift in perception of his abilities going forward. This shift in perception is displayed by long-time broadcaster and former head coach Jeff Van Gundy, suggesting the Lakers should trade James, a thought that would have sounded foolish to even the most casual of fans a season ago. In today’s NBA, where super teams are now commonplace, it is no longer enough to rely on one superstar, even if his name is LeBron James, to lead a team to a championship."He's not good enough anymore to take four cadavers and get to the Finals” said one nameless Western Conference general manager in a Bleacher Report article. Plainly put, the King is not perceived to be as much of a force as he once was, which is almost a surprise for a player who has successfully fought Father Time for so long. Going forward, LeBron will be on a minutes restriction after having missed many games due to a groin injury to stay healthy and prepare for the seasons to come. It will be interesting to note how LeBron adapts to the latter stages of his career and perhaps even changes his approach on and off the court.