Remember back in 2017, when LeBron James’ shots at his front office were simply sources of entertainment for Lakers fans? His subtweets were Twitter fodder and nothing more, back when he was either in Miami or Cleveland. With the Lakers, though, his subliminal messages land a little different.
When James first arrived in Los Angeles, he and Magic Johnson embarked on a grand experiment. Rather than surrounding James with shooting, length, athleticism, and defensive wherewithal that helped him win championships in Miami and Cleveland, the Lakers instead opted for, well, not that.
James’ analysis of that experiment was somehow more amazing, as he made a literal fart noise when asked how he thought that went.
Johnson stepped down, the Lakers missed out on Kawhi Leonard, and stumbled accidentally into the equation that led to his prior championships and, guess what... They won a championship!
Awesome. Surely given that success, the Lakers would continue to lean even more heavily on steady role players like Danny Green, Kyle Kuzma, Alex Caruso, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, etc., right? They figured it out! There’s no way to screw that up with firsthand experience with exactly what wins.
Ah, that’s right. Green would be sent with a first-round pick to Oklahoma City for Dennis Schröder, who immediately demanded to start over Caruso, did, but never quite fit with James because it turned out his 39% three-point shooting the year prior was an aberration.
But hey. That was one mistake. There is just no way the Lakers would triple down on that approach after James’ flatulent analysis and Schröder’s spectacularly bad contractual judgment.
(Quick aside: Hilariously, the Lakers — and Schröder, obviously — would be in an objectively better place had he just accepted the reported $84 million contract. Whoops.)
Oh shit, that’s right. Even given the headache that Schröder was on and off the court, the Lakers committed even further to a ball-dominant, poor shooting point guard to try to fit with James as they sent Kuzma, KCP, Montrezl Harrell and another first-round pick to Washington for Russell Westbrook and will now have to trade another first-rounder just to undo that mistake.
So if you’re keeping track at home, the Lakers have used Green, Kuzma, Caldwell-Pope, Harrell, and at least two first-round picks on Schröder and Westbrook. That doesn’t take into account Caruso, who they let walk because of how expensive Westbrook was at the same position, nor the contracts for Kendrick Nunn, Talen Horton-Tucker and now Lonnie Walker IV.
All that for, again, players whose creativity won’t matter in the Lakers’ biggest moments because you want LeBron James to have the ball, obviously.
And look, there’s plenty of blame to go around here. James has his preferences, but Johnson infamously had this to say when specifically asked about the lack of shooting he assembled:
After Johnson stepped down, the onus fell on Pelinka to compile a more productive roster and, to his credit, he did exactly that en route to that championship in 2020. Unfortunately, he has spent every waking moment stripping that team down and altogether ignoring what made it special.
So whether you want to assign blame to James, Johnson or Pelinka, you can honestly take your pick. You don’t go from a championship team with plenty of flexibility to whatever the hell this roster is without all kinds of mistakes from the top down.
One thing is clear, though, as the Lakers try to dig themselves out of this current hole: They simply cannot continue to rely on ball-dominant guards to alleviate pressure on James. It hasn’t worked to this point and in all likelihood will not work moving forward. And if James asks for a fucking playmaker, Pelinka should consider responding with a fart noise.
This week on a special triangle edition of “The Lakers Lounge,” I was joined by Harrison Faigen and Aaron Larsuel. We discussed this, a different approach to this same issue, House of Dragons and plenty more.
And for a short-form recap pod, check out Lakers Lowdown, in which Anthony Irwin recaps the previous day’s news and gets you ready for the day ahead in LakerLand, every weekday morning on the Silver Screen & Roll Podcast feed.