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Lakers, LeBron Re-Boot, Take 2

June 19th, 2019 · No Comments · Uncategorized

So, that didn’t work out so well. The 2018-19 Lakers, fortified by free-agent signing LeBron James, would aim for a place in the playoffs — and maybe more. But, for sure, the Lakers were back and their games would be destination viewing again.

Not so fast.

The Lakers started fairly well and were 20-14 on December 25, after crushing the Golden State Warriors, in Oakland, beating the defending champions 127-101.

But that was the game when the theoretically unbreakable James suffered a significant groin injury, and when he left the lineup (for 27 games) the Lakers imploded.

By the end of the year they had to accept missing the playoffs for the sixth successive season, which is not supposed to happen to the league’s most glamorous franchise. Magic Johnson quit as president, revealing the internal divisions at the club, and suddenly the notion of a re-make in time for the coming season … was a Must Do. A failure to add a second star might even prompt James to push for a way out of town only halfway through his four-year, $153 million contract.

Well, they got the second star, giving up a hefty package of players and draft picks to obtain big man Anthony Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans — giving the Lakers, arguably, two of the best five players in the game.

And so, they head into a new season with at least a notion they can end the years of losing, including 37-45 last season. Las Vegas expects quite a bit more than 42-40 — they have installed the Lakers as the favorites to win the 2019-20 championship. Yeah. Crazy.

All because they did pretty much what they had to do — grab for Anthony Davis, perhaps the only superstar in the NBA apparently eager to play with LeBron and the Lakers.

Over the previous season or three it became increasingly clear that most NBA stars had zero interest in becoming LeBron’s sidekick. Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Paul George … all sent out signals of not being interested in LeBron’s Lakers.

The one guy keen to join forces was Davis, who just happens to have the same agent (Rich Paul) as James and who almost joined the team during a muddled, middle-of-the-season trade scheme that never worked out.

What we did learn was that the Lakers were ready to give up on most or all of their “young core” — guys like Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart — who would be packed off to New Orleans to make LeBron happy.

That did not make the young guys happy, and a rift appeared between James and Almost Everyone Else.

When the time for the trade came around, Rob Pelinka, now the No. 1 basketball guy in the organization, sent those three to NOLA along with three (gulp) first-round draft picks.

All for Anthony Davis.

The Lakers were able to keep perhaps the best of their young guys, Kyle Kuzma, and now all they need is about 10 volunteers to fill in around the Super Twosome (plus Kooz).

If it seemed like the gave up too much, well, yeah, they did. If you are thinking long term, or even medium term.

The Lakers are focused on the short term. They are in Win Or Bust mode, given that LeBron turns 35 in December of the coming season, his 17th (!) in the league. And that Davis, 26, might not want to hang around in L.A. without LeBron. (Remember, Davis is under contract for the coming season and could walk as a free-agent in, say, a LeBron-less Lakers environment.

So, hey, no pressure. What could go wrong, other than the Lakers setting themselves up for another long stretch in the hurt locker if one or both of the stars gets hurt or they fail to surround them with enough useful players.

Pelinka is the man in the cross-hairs. He needs to find some shooters and a point guard, at the least, and everyone hopes he doesn’t start by looking at the flakes and has-beens he signed to flesh out the starting lineup a year ago. (Or maybe Rondo, McGee, Stephenson, Beasley, et al, were Magic’s idea.)

It is not clear if the Lakers have enough cap space left to clear a place for another “max” contract; the Davis deal may have made that impossible, perhaps to the surprise of Pelinka. (NBA salary rules are beyond obtuse.)

But they should have about $23 million of cap money lying about, we hear, even without another super-max, and that should be enough for a couple of trey specialists and a competent point guard.

The more a reasonable person thinks about the Lakers’ situation, the more it seems as if this was about their only move with the potential for a big return. LeBron is running out of time as a dominating presence; lots of elite guys don’t want to play with him; teams knew the Lakers lacked leverage and could wring tons of assets out of a desperate club, and the Lakers conceded (at least inside their heads) they were, in fact, desperate.

So, LBJ and The Brow … and maybe it all works out. Somebody has to win the next championship, and it won’t be the Warriors, without Kevin Durant (snapped Achilles) or Klay Thomspon (blown knee) — unless Steph Curry and Draymond Green are given some fine young role players … and it probably won’t be the Toronto Raptors, not if Kawhi Leonard decided Canada is not for him and jumps elsewhere — maybe even to the Clippers.

Now we wait. Nine months from now, LeBron and Davis may be holding a big trophy … or they both could be plotting exit strategies after the club lays another regular-season egg.

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