The Los Angeles Lakers are limping to the finish line of their first season with LeBron James. Sure, no one seriously considered this team any kind of title contender this year, but they also probably penciled them in for some kind of playoff appearance.
All that said, when asked whether the way this season played out might hinder the Lakers’ chances at landing a marquee free agent this summer, James pointed out to the context of why things went the way they did (via Spectrum SportsNet):
“I don’t think it changes. I think everybody knew that coming into this year it was still going to be challenging no matter if we were all healthy and we played all 82 games.
I think, obviously, myself being out five weeks, Rondo being out five weeks, B.I. being out for the remainder of the season, early suspensions, Zo being out for the remainder of the season, Kuz being out, JaVale had pneumonia at one point and it’s taken a toll on our team.
We’re a team that was built on depth and when you continue to have injuries and things of that nature, your depth is not what you’d like it to be, obviously, and it’s hard on our ball club.
We have an opportunity to get better this summer through free agency and also through the draft and I believe our front office and our coaching staff will make that happen.”
The impact injuries have had on this team has been talked about roughly as many times as Rajon Rondo has missed a defensive assignment, so there’s no need to travel down that path again. But James’ point about the team’s impact before hoping to land a free agent is absolutely worth considering.
James himself signed with a Lakers organization coming off 35 wins. Yes, there were probably other factors at play, but it remains literally true he wound up in Los Angeles despite the way the season before that played out.
Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving have both been tied to the New York Knicks, who remain the New York Knicks. You don’t go there purely for the basketball situation you’re walking into.
The very same Kawhi Leonard James lost to Thursday night is currently playing for a Toronto Raptors team that will legitimately compete for a championship this year, but there is no guarantee he sticks it out beyond this season and by several accounts still has his eye on Los Angeles in some capacity.
The point here is that we might be overvaluing that year before a free agent’s decision regarding their choice of destination. NBA players are some of the most powerful athletes in professional sports. If they really want to wind up somewhere or play with someone, they tend to find a way to do so.
James is probably the best example of this in the history of the NBA. Does the agency he operates with sometime impede other players’ agency? Absolutely. But there are few people worth listening more to on this subject than him, and his optimism might seem ill-placed, but he has to be this optimistic. The alternative is to complain to the media that this season might have ruined his chances at redeeming the decision he made last summer.
James’ response here was as telling as it was interesting and born of truth based on recent events. The Lakers are banking on it predicting the trend he was inherently pointing to continuing.