After making his triumphant return to the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014 and ending the city’s 52-year championship drought in 2016, LeBron James left the reigning Eastern Conference champion this summer to join a Los Angeles Lakers team that has not seen the postseason in five years. Why?
While there are many people that believe James came to L.A. solely to set up his post-basketball career, a group of anonymous NBA scouts told Sports Illustrated that they think the move made sense for James from a basketball standpoint as well.
The Lakers roster is better than Cleveland’s last year top to bottom. The Lakers we see in the first month will look different than the Lakers in the playoffs. They’re going to try to figure out what works best as they go along. Historically, LeBron handling the ball the majority of the game, that formula has been proven. The roster the Lakers have assembled will challenge a lot of what has made LeBron comfortable in the past because they want to play at a high pace and they don’t have that much shooting.
What if told you saying this year’s Lakers are better than last year’s Cavs isn’t that spicy of a take?
Yes, James had an All-Star teammate in Kevin Love in Cleveland and a handful of valuable veterans like Kyle Korver, George Hill and J.R. Smith, but even in the rudimentary stages of their development, the Lakers promise to be a more well-rounded team than the Cavs, and that’s no coincidence.
According to Ramona Shelburne and Brian Windhorst of ESPN, Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson sold James on the idea of playing with “tough-minded playmakers” who are “defensively versatile” like Rajon Rondo and Lance Stephenson. The Lakers will be a lot of things this season, but one-dimensional isn’t one of them.
That versatility goes beyond their acquisitions in free agency too. In last year’s draft, the Lakers targeted players with those same qualities, including Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and Kyle Kuzma. Brandon Ingram is probably the best example of the type of player the front office likes outside of James, but he was drafted by the previous front office.
The Cavaliers might end up having finished higher in the standings last year than the Lakers will this season because of the conference they play in, but when things start clicking for the Lakers, there will be no mistaking who the better team is.
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