July 1, 2018 was one of the biggest newsworthy days in NBA history. This was the day NBA superstar LeBron James decided to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers and join the Los Angeles Lakers, one of the most historical franchises in NBA history. He signed a four-year deal worth $153.3 million.
The hype around this move was worldwide and many people were in absolute shock, not only that James would decide to move teams for the third time, but also that he would move to the Lakers. Some Kobe Bryant fans weren’t too pleased with this move, defacing some murals that were painted in Los Angeles about James. Bryant fans always saw James as a rival to Bryant’s greatness, so many are struggling to adjust to James being on their team now.
Whether or not all fans support the decision, James is a Laker, and how it has as been his entire career, there are expectations for him to get far in the playoffs and lead the Lakers back into contention. The Lakers have missed the playoffs five straight seasons, which is unusual when you look at the great history of the Lakers, who have won 16 NBA championships. James is here to resurrect this franchise in the eyes of many, but as shown so far, it will take time.
The Lakers are off to a slightly rough start at 4-6. They could have won a few more of the six games they have lost, but have shown an inability to close out games when they have the lead late. In a game against the San Antonio Spurs, James missed two free throws to lose the game in overtime. Then in a game against the Houston Rockets, the Lakers were within one point towards the end of the game before a fight broke out between the Rockets’ Chris Paul and Lakers’ Rajon Rondo and Brandon Ingram. The Lakers lost momentum and ended up losing by double digits. History has shown that James’ teams have struggled to start the season every time he joins a new team. When James joined the Miami Heat in 2010, the team started 19-20, leading many in the media to start panicking and finger-pointing towards head coach Erik Spolestra and star center Chris Bosh.
This Lakers team has a youthful core, with young players Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball, and Josh Hart seeing crucial minutes in game time. There also have been some bright spots from a few veterans on the team, namely JaVale McGee, who is leading the NBA in blocks, and Lance Stephenson, who has shot the ball well and shown a great passing ability. With the guidance and leadership of James, these players’ games will expand and they will eventually find the chemistry in playing alongside James. There is also pressure to perform by head coach Luke Walton (of local San Diego, and attended University High School, now Cathedral Catholic). There were reports over the last week that team president Magic Johnson “admonished” Walton for his lack of strategy in closing out tight games that the Lakers have failed to win. Walton may be on the hot seat, but being the coach for the last three seasons, Walton knows these young players the best and should be able to find ways to get them in the right positions to succeed.
There aren’t any expectations for the Lakers to win the championship this year, however, mostly because of the dominance of the Golden State Warriors led by Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, and Klay Thompson, who have won three out of the last four championships, facing James in all of those.
A successful season for the Lakers would be going from an NBA laughing stock to a viable playoff team in a deep Western Conference. James has the ability to get teams far, as he has been to eight straight NBA Finals with the Heat and Cavaliers, but this season is a whole new challenge for him being in the West versus the East.
The media puts pressure on James’ teams to win on a nightly basis, pressure James has felt since he was a high school star at St. Vincent St. Mary’s in Akron, so he is used to it at this point in his career. The Lakers’ team chemistry hasn’t been consistent yet 10 games in, but there is still time to improve throughout the remaining 72 games. The only question now is, how far will James be able to take this team during his four-year Lakers stint?