What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
Coping. It’s what sports fans do.
Hoping. That’s another thing sports fans do.
Today, I’m coping with the fact LeBron James is a Los Angeles Laker, and I’m hoping that it somehow all works out.
Let’s be perfectly clear here. I’m on record having my doubts about LeBron as a Laker, but I knew it was going to happen. LeBron James’ signing with the Lakers might have been the worst kept secret since Elton John’s homosexuality. There were more signs pointing to it than a neighborhood yard sale. Now, it’s official, and I’m not one of those dipshits who thinks rejecting reality changes it.
That’s an important distinction because among Laker fans, there is some serious blurring going on between the lines of reality and wishful thinking. There are far too many in Laker Nation who think LeBron’s sheer arrival carries the same weight of MacArthur wading ashore in the Phillipines in 1944. That means there are Laker fans who are already planning the victory parade. For as much as I can’t stand the phrase “pump the brakes,” that’s exactly what we Lakers’ fans need to do right now because unlike MacArthur’s fulfilling his promise to return to the Phillipines, ultimate victory for the purple and gold is more than a year away.
Given what has happened since the LeBron signing, it’s pretty clear the Lakers understand 2018-19 is the season in which the core of the “LeBron-era” is going to be given time to “gel.” Two things make that obvious. The first has everything to do with who was the first guy headed to the airport after LeBron’s arrival. You can flower it up with all the “renounce/salary cap” stuff you want, the bottom line was Julius Randle is a massive-bodied scoring forward who can shoot from the wing and beat most other “bigs” on the drive, and there’s only room for one of those on a LeBron-led team.
The second key comes in the second wave of free-agents who came to Los Angeles behind LeBron. JaVale McGee, Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, and the re-signing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are all on ink good for one year. While the common noise coming from the lame-stream sports media rings about a lot of “not knowing what the Lakers are doing,” there are several points we can reasonably deduce.
1) The Lakers are still a “work in progress.”
As it stands right now, whether there’s more to come in the current free-agent period, or if this goes into next year, it’s rather obvious there’s a “core” to this team which is going to spend the next season learning to play together. By looking at who is on single-season deals, the process of elimination tells us who comprises the “core needing to gel,” and what their role is going to be:
Granted, the Lakers may not be done yet; so this is still quite fluid…but most of those guys will be Lakers come November. More importantly, this is likely to be the core for the future.
2) The Lakers still need another “big gun.”
Call this an off-shoot of point #1 if you will, but the fact remains to win in the NBA, you need two “big guns.” LeBron never had that in Cleveland, and changing his address to Los Angeles hasn’t changed that…yet. The bottom line is that winning the Western Conference means beating the Golden State Warriors…who have three “big guns;” Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, and Klay Thompson.
More importantly, it’s also why the Lakers’ stable feature a lot of guys on one-year deals. That not only means roster flexibility, it also makes for “big gun” level salary cap space come 2019. There’s a lot of interesting names in next year’s free-agent class, but the “big gunniest” ones include DeAndre Jordan, Klay Thompson, Nicola Vucevic, Karl Anthony-Townes, Kristaps Porzingis, and Justise Winslow…and not so “Big Gunny,” but personal favorite Frank Kaminsky.
What can I say? I’ve got a soft spot for seven-footers who can play with their back to the basket and shoot from the wing.
Not to mention, there’s more that one of the guys mentioned as the “core of the future” who have the potential to grow into a “big gun.” If you’re a Laker fan, this is your “Timbuk 3” future…
3) The Lakers need to pay attention to defense.
Yes, this all represents a massive rebuilding of the Lakers both as a brand and on the floor. This is happening because frankly, the Lakers have not been very good as of late. However, I’m still on record believing that LeBron isn’t a “fix-all” for what ails the Lakers. Not only do I still believe that, but I think they’ve introduced the possibility of weakening one of their strengths.
I also know I just sang the praises of the Lakers’ future, and now this may come off a bit “Debbie Downer,” but this team was actually pretty good defensively. I understand it isn’t “sexy,” and I can already hear the counter-arguments about “points off the transition game” and needing more offense, blah blah blah…. Those things are true, but what’s also true is that at some point, this team is going to have to beat the Warriors.
Let’s just get the proverbial “elephant in the room” out of the way right now. Being among the oldest of old-school Laker fans, never once did it occur to me I’d be having a discussion about how a Laker team who hasn’t made the playoffs since Dennis Rodman’s first trip to North Korea is needing to re-tool to beat the fucking Golden State Warriors. If you hadn’t noticed, before becoming the reigning dynasty of professional basketball, the Golden State Warriors spent four decades being the NBA’s answer to the Washington Generals.
The championship-caliber Warriors live and die on shooting. To me, there’s two approaches to beating a jump-shot based team. You can “fight fire with fire,” but I’m not getting into a shooting contest with Steph Curry unless I can have 80’s vintage Larry Bird on my roster. That leaves option #2; playing defense and cleaning the glass.
Last season, the two best defensive Lakers were Lonzo Ball and Julius Randle. Lonzo is a tremendous defender and a (for a guard) great rebounder, but they need “bigs” who can ccrash the boards. Randle was the only one they had, and LeBron clearly is not interested in being an “under the rim” player at this point in his career.
The bottom line is while the 2017-2018 Lakers struggled offensively, they showed serious improvement on the defensive end. That will be critically important in a bit.
4) The Lakers need to rename the “Luke Walton Offense.”
Time for a hard reality. We Laker fans have been hearing about the “Luke Walton Offense,” but the fact is it has been more concept than reality. The expectation heading into last season was the Lakers offense would be far more dynamic than it was. The idea was that with Lonzo Ball at the controls, the Lakers would jet up and down the floor, out-running team for easy transition baskets and using passing in the half court to create open jumpers.
That didn’t happen. But I’ll guaran-damn-tee that will be the same philosophy going into 2018-19. All you have to do is look at how much the Cavaliers loved the easy transition bucket set up with the long outlet pass off a defensive rebound. That’s a lot of what the “Walton Offense” wanted to do, and it sure as shit will be a lot of what the “LeBron Offense” does. The “LeBron” Lakers seem to be building toward that.
They just aren’t there yet.
5) The Laker offense needs to come from the defense.
As is, the Lakers are already a team that loves to push the pace of the game. They have guys who can run the floor. Now with LeBron, Lonzo Ball, and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, they have three pretty good passers. In other words, the Lakers have what they need in the middle of the floor to make an offense based on the transition game run.
We just aren’t sure about either end.
Obviously, LeBron will help in the offensive end, But again, he can’t do it alone. If Moritz Wagner and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk can deliver shooting commensurate with their potential, that will go a long way toward solving the scoring issues.
But where the Lakers are sorely lacking is on the defensive glass. As I’ve said, Lonzo Ball is a solid rebounder, but the Lakers need to replace the ten-ish boards per game that left town with Julius Randle. What kept the Lakers competitive last season was their defense, which was surprising not only because they were terrible in 2016-17, but in the fact they made such an improvement without dominating the defensive boards.
That’s the missing piece. The Lakers need guys who can get those defensive rebounds to set up the transition game. Yeah, save your breath telling me LeBron James is a top-ten guy collecting defensive boards. If LeBron is cleaning the glass, he’s not going to be on the front end of the transition game, which means he can’t solve the scoring problem. The Laker offense will still rely on setting the pace because they still lack the ability to run complex plays…if for no other reason that the big guys who can collect rebounds are also the ones who can set an off-ball screen…which by the way is something else the Lakers don’t do well.
Now maybe you understand why I keep saying LeBron cannot be a “fix-all.”
This is why in addition to another “big gun,” the Lakers need some front-court beef who can get boards and set an occasional pick. I would have put Andre Drummond on my free-agent “wish list,” but Detroit has him locked up through 2021 on a “max” deal. But DeAndre Jordan and Karl Anthony-Towns are both free agents in 2019, and Kevin Love hits the market in 2020.
6) Let’s “pump the brakes” on ALL of this.
As much as I disdain that term, it really fits in this case. Like I said, there are Laker fans already planning the victory parade, and I’ve already given you five reasons why that may be a smidge premature. Before you go full “Debbie Downer” on me, don’t forget I think this team now has a lot of positives., but we have to be honest and look at both sides.
On The Upside:
LeBron has never played with a true “pass-first” point guard, let alone one as good like Lonzo Ball. That in and of itself doesn’t make the Lakers a championship team overnight, but it certainly is a big step in the right direction.
LeBron’s three-year deal with a fourth-year option means there will be no holding the Sword of Damocles over the Lakers’ collective head like he did with Cleveland Cavaliers’ owner Dan Gilbert.
The Lakers look to be set on building on one of their big strengths, setting the pace and creating scoring chances in the transition game. While some are already talking about a return to the days of an “unstoppable” Laker fast-break; one can already see similarities between the construction of this team and the “glory days” of the “Showtime” Lakers.
I know…I know… I just said let’s not get out over our skis on all of this, and I just laid out the idea of Showtime 2.0. The only reason I mention that is because of the role LeBron is going to play in whatever you would wish to call the next incarnation of the Lakers. I’ve already discussed the two things LeBron can fix right off the proverbial bat; he can either be a defensive rebounder or he can score in the front-court. I think we all know which one is going to be the case.
On The Downside:
They still don’t have enough shooters. As I’ve already mentioned, the Laker offense is going to feature a lot of long-outlet pass, “leak-out” running baskets in transition. But it all can’t come from there, That means at some point, the Lakers will have to make scoring opportunities by creating and hitting jumpers. They could change that somewhat by getting a “big” who can dominate under the offensive basket (LeBron ain’t doing that…trust me…). But even then, the double-teamed “big” who can kick it out to the “money” spot-up shooter on the wing…weell, those things go together like pizza and beer.
The Lakers don’t set off-ball screens very well. Again, this is part of the “creating scoring opportunities” issue. And again, this is where another solid “big” in the offensive end would come in handy.
Other than Lonzo, LeBron and Mykhailiuk, the Lakers don’t pass very well. At least improving passing skills in practice is far easier than completely revamping somebody’s shot.
The defense took a hit. That’s the trade-off we Laker fans will need to accept…and believe me, we won’t care if there’s a appreciable change in the win totals.
BONUS: There’s one over-arching HUGE positive in the LeBron signing
Everybody seems to have forgotten two years ago when LaMarcus Aldridge refused to even speak with the Lakers about free-agency as he called them a “dysfunctional” family. Now that Jim Buss has been exiled to the Laker version of Elba, there could not be a better indicator the “dysfunction” has been dispatched than the signing of LeBron James.