Last year, Magic Johnson attempted an experiment as ill-fated as his tenure as president of basketball operations of the Los Angeles Lakers. He attempted to surround LeBron James with playmakers rather than the shooters that have aided James on his more successful teams, and, well, let’s just say James didn’t exactly have glowing reviews for the way it went.
And honestly, his assessment might not have been harsh enough.
Still, that hasn’t deterred James from having an open mind about his role this year. After practice Thursday afternoon, James was asked about the idea of running point or being moved off the ball in some situations, and he said he’s open to either.
“It doesn’t matter to me. I’ll do whatever it takes for us to win,” James told reporters. “I’m a ballplayer. I’m not a point guard, I’m not a shooting guard, I’m not a small forward, a power forward or a center. I’m just a ballplayer. You put me on the floor and I can make things happen, whoever is out on the floor. I’m just looking forward to getting out there with my teammates because this is exciting and it’s fun.”
Look, it’s nice to hear James open to some ideas and this is just a single question about one aspect of the way the Lakers might play this season but I cannot say this loudly enough:
/gives up on climbing the mountain (this is plenty high enough)
PLEASE, LAKERS. DO NOT RE-EXPERIMENT WITH LEBRON OFF THE BALL.
Teams like that Miami Heatles one, or with his second stop in Cleveland could play James off the ball because they had primary perimeter creators that allowed for such a strategy. Neither Dwyane Wade (retired) or Kyrie Irving (attempting to taste color) are on this roster, though.
The only creator who was at one point good enough to warrant such strategy on this team is Rajon Rondo. You could make a case for Anthony Davis or even Alex Caruso, but even though Lakers Head Coach Frank Vogel said at practice that the Lakers would run some offense through Davis in the high post and James sounded excited to feed him, Davis has never quarterbacked an offense well enough to justify moving James off the ball for significant time, and Caruso is an all-but a complete unknown heading into a season with expectations.
So, if this is indeed something they’re thinking about doing, that means a whole bunch of Rondo on the court with James, and boy we don’t need to see that again.
Last season, among pairings that played at least 600 minutes together, lineups featuring both Rondo and James held a net rating of -5.4, making them the seventh-worst tandem on last year’s roster. Rondo was easily James’ worst teammate in terms of tandems to play that many minutes together last season, and is the only Lakers to play that much alongside James to carry a negative net-rating.
Do you realize how bad at basketball you have to be to consistently be a net-negative alongside LeBron f***ing James?
Again, we don’t know for sure how much they’re considering moving James off the ball and who the Lakers might have in mind to handle the ball in those situations, but this roster just doesn’t have the personnel to make this work for a ton of minutes and, as we wrote earlier, said roster likely isn’t changing anytime soon. So it isn’t quite time to freak out about a hypothetical strategy we aren’t positive they’ll utilize.
Hell, there is also value in trying a couple things over the course of the season just to ease the burden on James or be prepared just in case he suffers another injury. (Please don’t suffer another injury, LeBron. Thanks.) But we’ve seen this version of that experiment before. Rondo and James just don’t work together, especially if Davis is also reluctant to play center.
If you have Rondo and James plus one of the team’s traditional center, that leaves only two shooters to space the floor. It won’t work. The Lakers should know this already.
Again, it’s great to hear James at least appear to be this flexible. He said similar things at the beginning of last year too about playing center and we saw how that went, so maybe he’ll put his foot down similar on something he’s already seen fail spectacularly. Hopefully, it’ll fail like this in scrimmages, too, and the Lakers will scrap it before the season.