In the summer preceding his 16th NBA season, superstar free agent LeBron James signed a four-year contract with the Los Angeles Lakers, bringing renewed hope to the storied franchise. Having performed at such a high level in his previous 15 seasons, James brought visions of ending the Lakers five-year postseason drought and hopefully adding more championship banners to the rafters of the Staples Center.
With two Olympic gold medals, four MVP trophies, multiple All-Star appearances, and eight consecutive trips to the NBA Finals as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat, Lakers fans salivated at the addition of LeBron to their roster. After all, back in 2007, James dragged… er, led the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals, with a crew composed of the likes of Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Drew Gooden, Sasha Pavlovic, and Daniel Gibson to name a few. Unfortunately for them, they were easily swept four games to zero by the San Antonio Spurs.
The 2018-2019 NBA season offered a fresh start for the Los Angeles Lakers. With the addition of James, the Lakers were hopeful he’d work the magic he had in his previous NBA stops while leading them back to the postseason. With young talent in the form of the 2016 and 2017 second overall draft selections Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball respectively, the anticipation for immediate improvement seemed a given.
These two young talents along with second-year star in the making, Kyle Kuzma, provided the belief that all that was necessary was a superstar to get them over the hump.
Enter LeBron James.
In the loaded Western Conference, getting back to the top would prove to be quite challenging. The Golden State Warriors are a Finals defeat (to the 2016 LeBron led Cavaliers) away from winning four consecutive championships.
Thanks to head coach Gregg Popovich, the aforementioned San Antonio Spurs are always in the mix to contend. Regardless of roster changes, Popovich continues to guide them to success at unprecedented levels.
The Portland Trailblazers, led by the backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are a threat.
The Utah Jazz, Minnesota Timberwolves, Sacramento Kings and Denver Nuggets are all young talented teams on the rise.
Let’s not forget their arena mate/”little brother” Los Angeles Clippers. Given all of this firepower, although postseason success seems a birthright to Lakers fans, it wouldn’t be easily accomplished.
James missed 17 games due to injury, only to be followed by Ball and Ingram missing multiple games due to injury, and ultimately being shut down for the season due to said injuries. To add insult to (literal) injury, Brooklyn Nets guard D’Angelo Russell and New Orleans Pelicans forward Julius Randle, players the Lakers sent packing, have had outstanding seasons. Russell made his first All-Star team this season, while Randle is averaging 20 points per game.
President of Basketball Operations/Hall of Famer Magic Johnson is on record as saying he needed two summers to get the players in place to turn things around. Additionally, Magic indicated that he would resign if unable to get the players needed to get the Lakers back to prominence. There has been some talk that they will be unable to attract top-tier free agents, given LeBron’s presence on the team. Barring something totally unforeseen, head coach Luke Walton will likely be fired at seasons end. His eventual replacement will be critical to the franchise’s immediate and long-term success. Needless to say, the Lakers face a very important offseason.
Given his age/years in the league, it’s unlikely that LeBron will play beyond the four years he signed on for. That being said, he has three years remaining to get the Lakers back to their glory days enjoyed in times past. With icons such as George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Gail Goodrich, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Jamaal Wilkes, James Worthy, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant on all-time rosters past, it’s no wonder that James’ previous credentials won’t matter as much to Lakers’ fans if he is unable to lead them to at least one championship.
With a record of 31-41 as of the writing of this article, the only thing remaining is to play out the string and hopefully end the season on as much of a winning note as possible. After finishing 35-47 last year, the franchise and their fans certainly don’t want to see them finish with a worse record this year. In the best case scenario, they could run off ten wins to finish at .500, but that still would be viewed as a failure.
Perhaps they will be able to get a prominent free agent to join forces with James while making additional acquisitions that will help them get back to the top of the Western Conference. For the future of the franchise, Lakers fans everywhere certainly hope that is the case, but for this season at least, James’ run of postseason appearances will come to an end. Once the regular season comes to a close, it’s over.