As I wrote in my NBA offseason recap, LeBron James signing a four-year contract with the Los Angeles Lakers overshadowed anything else that had happened during the offseason. Anytime the best player in the league reaches free agency the sports media world was abuzz. After the dust had settled and reality set in for the rest of the league, the anticipation to see what would happen with a Lakers team that had struggled for many years was almost too much to bear. This season, however, did not go the way any Laker fan, player or front office member expected.
I've kept my ear pretty close to the ground with the NBA in recent years, and the way in which LeBron's first year with the Lakers has been talked about is astonishing, to say the least. I understand that a big part of sports media, especially with the takes, is to zig when everyone else zags, but it seems like everyone is zagging into blaming LeBron.
I can understand that, to an extent. LeBron is always the biggest free agent when he enters the market, and the Lakers front office were talking about him as if he was the missing piece the Lakers had been looking for. And that's true. The Lakers have been built around this young core of Ingram, Kuzma, and Ball but you need veteran leadership to give those young players both stability and direction. LeBron did his part and the numbers don't lie.
On average, LeBron played roughly 35 minutes a game and scored 27.4 points with 8.3 assists and 8.5 rebounds. If you look at those numbers as a whole, they're nearly identical to his stats from last year. The narrative that LeBron is not as athletic or can't perform at the same elite level that he has for his entire career is downright wrong. It's as if we forget LeBron is less than a year removed from one of the greatest.
If there's any blemish on LeBron's part this year, it's due to the groin injury that plagued him for a good portion of the season. LeBron sustained that injury during the Christmas Day game against the Golden State Warriors which kept him off the court for an additional 17 games. And I think injuries were really underscored for the Lakers this year. In LeBron's case, the Lakers were 20-14 and sat at the 4th seed in the Western Conference. LeBron's return was delayed, as mentioned earlier, and by the time the Lakers were statistically eliminated from the playoffs, the Lakers put LeBron on "load management" to ensure lower the risk of re-injury. LeBron's season ended with him having played 55 games, a career low.
LeBron was not the only player to go through injuries this season. Kyle Kuza missed 7 games with a variety of injuries, Lonzo Ball played only 47 games with the season due to a lingering ankle injury and Brandon Ingram ended his season in March when he was diagnosed with Deep Vein Thrombosis. It's difficult to gauge the success of the young core + LeBron if injuries continue to keep them off the floor. As my favorite sports media personality Shannon Sharpe once said, those four players were on the floor together for a total of 23 games.
The Lakers front office created a chaotic environment that was mostly led by Magic Johnson. His tenure was peppered by false promises that began with Paul George's free agency. George made it pretty much as clear as possible that he wished to sign with the Lakers which prompted the Pacers to trade him to the OKC Thunder. When his contract was up, however, the Lakers failed to land George as he decided to re-sign with the Thunder. From there, the Anthony Davis debacle was no doubt devastating for the morale of both teams, but the amount of sensitive trade-specific information that was being leaked from the Lakers front office was astounding, to say the least. Magic then unexpectedly announces his intentions to step down as the President of Basketball Operations in quite possibly the most Magic Johnson way possible.
Free agency approaches and this offseason will be a great opportunity for the Lakers to reset. Hopefully, with a new President and Coach, the Lakers can begin to build a good supporting bench around a healthy young core and LeBron to make a run at the playoffs. I have no doubt in my mind that LeBron will continue to do what he does, it's just a question if the factors around him can get back on track.