With LeBron James buying a second home in Brentwood, Calif., this month, the “LeBron to the Lakers” rumors are back in the news. We know Lakers guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is a Rich Paul client, and everyone saw James whispering to Lonzo Ball after last week’s game. To the outsider, it would seem that Hollywood would be the perfect place for a man so attracted to the limelight.
But truth be told, no one really knows what James will do next season, not even James himself.
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The Cavs superstar has always been the type of person to put great thought into his life choices, even admitting that he was torn over “The Decision” to leave Cleveland for Miami minutes before making the announcement. He made it clear before the season he won’t think about free agency until next summer, and so far, he has remained true to his word.
So taking all emotions and “gut feelings” out of the equation, let’s look at the basketball reasons — the important reasons — why the idea of LeBron to the Lakers is so farfetched.
Too young for a title: Midway through his 15th NBA season, it is more obvious than ever that James is in win-now mode. He is shredding the narrative that a player cannot get better this late in his career.
Statistically, he is having one of the best seasons of his career. He is shooting a career-high 57.2 percent from the field and 41.1 percent from 3-point range. James understands that in order to be considered the greatest player in the history of the game he has to approach (or for some, surpass) Michael Jordan’s six NBA rings. This is his sole focus. As James stated shortly after the Cavs captured the 2016 NBA championship, “My motivation is this ghost I’m chasing. That ghost played in Chicago.”
So what in Los Angeles is going to help James reach that ghost? Yes, the Lakers have talent and potential, but they also have the third-youngest roster in the NBA (the Cavs own the oldest). They are in the bottom half of the league in 3-point attempts and dead last in 3-point percentage. James thrives with the ball in his hands surrounded by shooters, so it’s not exactly an ideal fit. The Lakers may have pieces that can one day come together to form a formidable roster, but is this belief enough to draw LeBron away from a team routinely expected to come out of the East?
As we have seen with young NBA teams, including the Warriors, it takes years for players to gel and mold themselves into a legitimate core capable of contending season after season. James would be joining a team that has zero playoff experience and a roster that is in no way ready to compete for a championship. He is not looking for a roster that he can mentor and develop. He always chooses veterans over youngsters. He is looking to win now.
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Western Conference competition: Why would any superstar think that going to the Western Conference would increase the chances of winning a ring? We have learned over time that James is not only a physical beast, but also one of the smartest players to ever take the floor. He definitely has considered the challenges of getting through the Western Conference on his way to the NBA Finals. Not to diminish James’ seven consecutive NBA Finals appearances, but playing in a weaker Eastern Conference over the past few years certainly made his road to the Finals much more manageable.
The West is simply loaded with star-studded teams. If James decided to switch sides, he would be facing an uphill battle. He would have to get through the Warriors, Rockets and Spurs, not to mention a tough middle tier of teams that could present problems in the first or second round of the playoffs. Consider this: with last year’s 51-31 overall record, the Cavs would have finished tied for fourth in the West with the Clippers and Jazz.
Compare this to the Eastern Conference with the Celtics, Raptors and Wizards, and the decision is simple. James heading to the Western Conference does not push him closer to Jordan.
The Ball problem: As much as James has praised Ball for his humility and team-first attitude, it remains to be seen whether the rookie point guard is truly capable of changing the trajectory of a franchise. That sounds unfair to put on a 20-year-old, but those were the expectations given by Magic Johnson after the Lakers selected Ball at No. 2 overall.
While Ball’s passing, rebounding and defense have given Lakers fans reasons for optimism, he is still shooting only 34.0 percent from the field and 27.4 percent from the 3-point line. Ball is clearly part of LA’s future plans, but does James believe he is worth the investment? Can Ball succeed with poor shooting numbers and a lack of next-level quickness and explosiveness in today’s NBA? (It’s worth reading ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz regarding that exact question.)
LeBron ultimately deciding not to join the Lakers comes down to basketball reasons. But Father Ball sure is not doing the Lakers any favors.
The public spat that occurred between LaVar and LeBron last season got a little testy. After Ball’s comments claiming that James’ children would struggle to escape his shadow, LeBron responded by saying, “Keep my kids’ name out your mouth. Keep my family out of your mouth. This is dad to dad. It’s a problem now.” That tension likely hasn’t disappeared.