Editor’s Note: For the second year in a row, the Silver Screen and Roll staff is counting down the most interesting Lakers heading into next season. We will be going through all 20 training camp spots before the season begins, and today we continue with No. 2, LeBron James.
LeBron James entered the league with as much (or more) hype as any other rookie in NBA history. In the 16 years since, he’s accomplished the seemingly impossible and somehow met those insane expectations. For the first time since his rookie season, however, James faces legitimate doubt, and it will be how he responds to those questions that defines his legacy in L.A.
If there is a set of circumstances that James could be aided by in his attempt to set the record straight, however, he could do worse than what he’ll be working with heading into this season.
James will be more rested than at any point of his career. The Lakers missed the playoffs and he played in a career-low 55 games last season. He’ll have a full offseason to recover from the groin injury that knocked him out for a quarter of the season and derailed the Lakers 2018-19 campaign.
For the first time since he came to the Lakers, James will be on a roster that at least makes some sense. Magic Johnson departed at the end of last season and took with him the experiment that James, was, um, not particularly fond of. The Lakers have ended their experiment of crowding James’ airspace with “playmakers,” and have given him some shooting to complement his best skills now.
Oh, and there’s also that Anthony Davis guy. He should help.
Gone are the Golden State Warriors, whose acquisition of Kevin Durant likely cost James a couple rings here and there. As a result of that and other offseason dominoes, the NBA he faces this year is about as wide open as at any point in his career and, by teaming up with the aforementioned Davis, James finds himself on a legitimate title contender. He couldn’t say that with a straight face last season.
It’s a good thing James is set up as well as he is, by the way. He has a ton of work to do to make up for last season’s failures — which took place on and off the court.
James spoke of the patience he had to maintain in order to watch Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and the rest of the Lakers young core come into their own. That felt like it lasted about a month.
Rumbles from James’ camp about his concerns with Luke Walton weren’t exactly hard to overhear.
Oh and there was also that whole trade deadline fiasco as the Lakers attempted to pry Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans. It wasn’t exactly like James seemed all that torn up as literally everyone around him heard rumors of their being traded for Davis at some point.
None of Rich Paul, James, Davis, the Lakers or the Pelicans handled that situation with any grace whatsoever, and the impact on both teams was impossible to ignore. It’s extremely unlikely that such a scenario would arise again seeing as the Lakers have basically no trade assets to offer, but if it does, it will take more than a few taco Tuesdays hosted at the James household to smooth it over.
This is all without mentioning that this very summer, James was once again spurned by a superstar free agent he hoped to play with. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George (whom James has a history with) are both Clippers, and James will have to overcome them to rebuild what he lost last year.
And that’s the point here: It’s one thing to hear brainless debates about where on the all-time great NBA player list James might fall on. The doubt James faces this year isn’t where he ranks all time, or whether he’s still the best player in the league. It’s how far down the latter list behind the likes of Leonard, Giannis Antetokounmpo (and possibly others) he’s fallen.
If James doesn’t rebound from last year, he could waltz his way into retirement and will still go down as one of the best ever to set foot on a basketball court. But ask any “Game of Thrones” fan, an all-time great run can absolutely be soiled in the hearts and minds of viewers by an ugly final chapter. James’ legacy is mostly set. Mostly.
But if James does have one final haymaker to throw, and launches himself back into that stratosphere he’s spent the last decade and a half dominating, you’d be talking about an unquestionably great career. James has a chance at taking (let alone winning) a third franchise to the NBA Finals — something no player has done before.
If James is great enough to lift this Lakers franchise — as weighed down by nepotism and cronyism as it’s appeared— back to the heights its fan base demands, that would leave damn near nothing else to question, and make him a legend in Southern California forever.
So that’s what’s at stake for LeBron. The Lakers landed his second superstar. He’s rested. The team around him makes sense. The NBA isn’t nearly as top-heavy as it’s been the last few seasons. The expectations with James are always incredible, and he’s lived up to them to this point.
If he does it again, he may just silence his critics once and for all.
The countdown so far...
2. LeBron James