Kentavious Caldwell-Pope serves as a recent example of enjoying what you have while you have it. During his tenure in Los Angeles, Caldwell-Pope was the focus of many trade rumors and a frequent subject in trade machine screenshots.
Yet while all that was going on, he established himself as a terrific 3&D wing that was vital in a title-contending and -winning team. Eventually, though, KCP was part of the package dealt to Washington — along with another useful 3&D wing in Kyle Kuzma — for Russell Westbrook.
And yet, after years of fans trying to trade him away, the Lakers would jump at the chance to have him back on the roster. That also speaks to an overall roster-building failure but also speaks to the value he brought to the team that wasn’t always fully valued.
Without 3&D wings on the team this year, the Lakers offense has struggled mightily offensively, paving the way to their 2-7 start on the year. Ironically, one of those two wins came against KCP’s new team, the Denver Nuggets, also a team the Lakers have seen twice this year.
KCP, then, has gotten a first-hand look at the Lakers’ offense and its issues and gave a brutally honest take on the matter, as shared in a recent article from Dave McMenamin of ESPN.
“Just watching the games, it just looks like there’s no basketball over there. It’s just playing pickup. It’s hard to watch sometimes. So from me to him, just get the team together, and I just want to see that spark in him again. I don’t think I see that spark in Bron. So, hopefully, he can get it back.”
There are some aspects to this that are both fair and foul. I’d push back on the “playing pickup” part of the comment as head coach Darvin Ham has done a good job of instilling strong principles in the team even early on in the season. While there are moments that the offense has been stagnant, seemingly in the second half in particular, I wouldn’t quite classify it as pickup ball.
However, the part about LeBron is interesting. While he’s statistically putting up the numbers you have come to expect from him even in Year 20, it has felt...off at times. It’s one of those things that’s hard to put a finger on but there have been moments where the vibes have just been weird.
Some of that has come in the last week when LeBron was battling a non-COVID illness that he even admitted to having a pretty big impact on him physically. That doesn’t explain the vibes being off at times this entire season.
Is it the loss of a “spark” for LeBron, however that would be quantified? I couldn’t possibly know. I wouldn’t be surprised if it has more to do with him not feeling this roster is one that can get it done as constructed and, thus, checking out a bit until a deal is made.
In some ways, Russ’ revival off the bench has provided that spark to LeBron and this team. He’s looked more engaged and animated in recent games. Long-term, though, is that enough to re-engage him if that’s what needs to be done? It feels more likely that a trade would do that.
At the end of the day, for the Lakers to have any chance to win regardless of the roster composition, LeBron has to be playing at an All-NBA level. If he’s not doing that, then the Lakers have no chance at anything. He needs the spark back, regardless of how it’s re-ignited.