One somewhat fair claim Magic Johnson made against Luke Walton in their now-infamous meeting was frustration with the system (or lack thereof) the Los Angeles Lakers have employed this season. But if you talk to scouts or executives around the NBA, even that’s a shallow reading of the situation thanks to the presence of LeBron James.
Sam Amick of The Athletic dug into how the league is reacting to the Lakers’ situation and found that there are a few people out there who sympathize with what Walton has to deal with:
But on the specific charge relating to offensive identity, and this pressing demand for a system that can function beyond the run-and-gun skill that has them ranked fourth in pace, scouts and front office executives alike who I spoke with on Friday were puzzled because of one glossed-over truth.
For all of LeBron’s greatness, he makes it hard to consistently establish the kind of system that Johnson is demanding in the half-court set because of his propensity to break plays and opt for pick-and-roll.
To be clear, this is by no means a LeBron-specific problem. All NBA superstars break plays for a variety of reasons, and let’s be honest here, any coach would happily have their system “broken” if it meant James gets to do his thing on the team they’re at the reins of.
That said, there is a ton of truth here. Walton can implement any system he wants, but at the end of the day, it’s the players who execute said system. And in the case of someone like LeBron, those players are going to listen to LeBron if the choice is between a third-year head coach and arguably the best player in the history of a sport with the ball in his hands. That’s just the way things are.
No matter who is on his roster, though, Walton has to find a way to get through to his players. Not just about schematics, but about the attention to detail necessary to orchestrate and execute an effective offensive system.
It all comes down to finding a balance between letting LeBron be LeBron, and making sure the offense allows for that creativity. Eight games is nowhere near enough time to judge whether or not Walton has figured that out, but given the situation, it seems Walton has to find that balance as soon as he can.