This week, LeBron James passed Michael Jordan for fourth place on the all-time scoring list. This career milestone brought up, once again, the greatest of all time (GOAT) debate surrounding James. Everyone seems to have their own set of criteria for what the GOAT means to them, and given the emotional subjectivity of the topic, the case will never be fully settled. Regardless of who everyone things the GOAT award should go to, I think we can all agree that for this particular era of the NBA, James takes the cake.
However, James isn’t necessarily having one of those GOAT seasons. Since joining the Los Angeles Lakers last summer, he’s had his work cut out for him to develop his young team into title contenders. And, it hasn’t gone as well as he probably planned.
Right now, the Lake Show sit at 11th place in the Western Conference while riding a four-game losing streak. In fact, James’ scoring record milestone took place in a game where the Lakers were quite literally stomped by the 2nd seed Denver Nuggets. Los Angeles now seems to be officially engaged in tanking for the remainder of the season, with reports swirling that James will have his minutes reduced the remainder of the season.
The Lakers have struggled mightily since NBA legend Kobe Bryant retired from the organization as they’ve not been successful at filling his shoes. The highly anticipated draft pick Lonzo Ball has been an underwhelming addition to the roster, and while they have some solid role players on the team, there hasn’t been anyone to step up and shine apart from James.
Fans are growing extremely frustrated with the Lakers’ continued struggle to win games, and some of them are abandoning ship. Even Snoop Dogg, a long time season ticket holder for the Lakers, offered the rest of his box seats for just $5 while calling for Coach Luke Walton to be fired.
*WARNING: VIDEO CONTAINS PROFANITY*
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 4, 2019
After this video was released, many rumors surfaced claiming that the Lakers plan to fire Walton once the season has ended, and Magic Johnson supposedly has a new head coach in mind if that does happen. The source reporting on Magic’s new head coach prospect didn’t mention any names, but did say the candidate is currently employed as a head coach within the NBA.
Although no self-respecting NBA team would admit to tanking, it’s clear that the Lakers have given up on their season. They’re 6.5 games back from the 8th slot in the playoffs, and with less than 20 games left it’s unlikely they’ll be able to make much progress in that time.
It looks like they have no choice but to scale back James’ minutes to preserve his health and overhaul the team in the offseason. Speaking of limiting his minutes, James was non-committal but acknowledged it would be a conversation between he and Coach Walton.
LeBron was asked in the context of him being with the Lakers for several more seasons, if there would be a point this year where it wouldn't make sense to play big minutes. He didn't dismiss it out of hand — he said it's likely a conversation between him and Luke Walton. pic.twitter.com/5jYHbTufFb
— Kyle Goon (@kylegoon) March 5, 2019
It’s crazy to imagine the NBA playoffs without James as the star.
However, to be fair, the Lakers roster is made up of a young group of players who are working to gain their footing in the league. They’re an extremely talented group of young men, and I hesitate to throw the baby out with the bathwater as it were.
Role players like Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma will be special names in the league for many years to come, and while I think Ball has struggled out of the gate, he could also be something great given the proper mentorship–and maybe a little less influence from his outspoken father.
Furthermore, I think it’s unfair to expect Coach Walton to turn the Lakers into a championship team in one season’s time by only adding James to the roster. Yes, James is a basketball god, but it’s important to understand that basketball is a team sport– 5 players on the court working together to accomplish a group goal.
James does need some help, and I think it’s important to balance the incredible player that he is with what’s a realistic goal to accomplish in just a few short months with a group of inexperienced talent.
As a Nuggets fan, our community experienced a similar period of frustration just a couple of seasons ago. The team was working with young players who were struggling to get into their groove. They preached a defensive mindset at nauseum only to go out and abandon any form of defense whatsoever on the court.
Everyone, including me, called for an overhaul of the team and firing of the coach. However, Nuggets President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly saw the bigger picture.
I’m really glad he did.
The Nuggets have subsequently had a record season this year, and they’re slated to be one of the most important teams the franchise has ever seen.
So perhaps it’s too early to get worked up about where the Lakers are headed. As a fan I can certainly understand the frustration of delayed gratification, and I do think some off-season changes will be necessary.
However, I think in time this group of players will bring pride to the Lakers once again making them yet another stiff competitor in the Western Conference.