The Morning Column: February 22, 2022
LeBron James’ time with the Lakers appears to be coming to an end. What do the Lakers do now?
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1. LeBron James’ time with the Lakers appears to be coming to an end.
We knew this was going to happen sooner or later. Next season will be James’ 20th in the NBA and he will be turning 38 years old in his final year under contract with the Lakers. Only five players in NBA history have played past their 20th season and none have gone past the 22 seasons Vince Carter hit recently during the pandemic shortened 2019-2020 season.
The players who played past their 20th season are recognizable names – Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Garnett, Kevin Willis, Robert Parrish and Carter – but none were more than role players in their final season. Nowitzki put up the best stat line of the group in his final year; averaging 7.3 points, 3.1 rebounds and less than one assist per game.
Of course, James is playing at a level we’ve never seen before at his age. He’s the NBA’s version of Tom Brady, who retired while still at the top of his sport at 44 years old. It’s hard to imagine James hanging around after his 20th season and averaging just 7 points, 3 rebounds and 1 assist but it’s also unrealistic to think he will be able to do what he is doing this season in averaging 29.1 points, his most since 2009-10 in his first run with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
2. While most expected James’ time with the Lakers to come to an end after next season when his contract is up, his comments during NBA All-Star Weekend opened the door to perhaps an earlier exit this summer.
James’ hinted at a possible return to Cleveland, praised Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti, lauded Cavaliers president of basketball operations Koby Altman and said he would play his final season in the NBA alongside his son, Bronny, who is currently a junior at Sierra Canyon High.
The comments were viewed as a shot at Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka and the direction of a rudderless team that did nothing at the NBA trade deadline.
James can pin the blame on this disastrous Lakers season on Pelinka all he wants but he is just as much to blame as Pelinka. He was the one that essentially set up a war room at his home in Brentwood and conducted meetings with prospective trade targets last offseason as the Lakers’ de facto general manager. The Lakers had targeted DeMar DeRozan, Buddy Hield, Bradley Biel, Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook last season before James and Anthony Davis focused their attention on forming a “Big Three” with Westbrook.
It has been a mess this season and with no quick or easy way to clean up the mess James played a large role in creating, he is now looking for a way out.
3. The Lakers knew this was the price of doing business with James. They experienced the highest of highs in winning the franchise’s first championship in a decade with James in 2020 and are now experiencing what could be the lowest of lows, which would be missing out on the playoffs for the second time in James’ four seasons with the team and watching him maneuver his way out before next season.
While the Lakers could certainly trade James heading into his 20th season and 38th birthday, I think it’s far more likely that they find a way to trade Westbrook. There wasn’t a deal that made sense for the Lakers to make at the deadline this month but perhaps there will be this offseason when they can package multiple future first round picks (as opposed to just one) along with 21-year-old Talen Horton-Tucker and Westbrook’s now expiring contract. Are the Lakers mortgaging their future for one more run at a ring with James and Davis? Yes, but they were already doing that before.
4. If this is the end of James’ tenure with the Lakers, the obvious question for many will be, was it worth it? Was it worth trading all the young talent the team had and all their future draft picks to pair James with Davis? The obvious answer is yes.
The Lakers had missed the playoffs six straight years and hadn’t won a playoff game in seven straight seasons before James and Davis teamed up to lead the Lakers to the franchise’s 17th championship. At the end of the day, that one championship makes it all worth it.
People can call it a “bubble title” but the truth is that Lakers’ championship deserves a gold star, not an asterisk. The Lakers went 52-19 during a 71-game regular season (longer than the lockout shortened seasons in 1999 and 2011) and despite being the No. 1 seed and earning home court advantage, had to play the entire postseason in a Florida bubble, away from their friends and family for 100 days. I’ll never understand how that is some kind of an advantage for the Lakers or taints one of the most difficult and remarkable journeys to a championship in professional sports history.
5. I always felt James had the ability to retire and be remembered as an all-time Lakers great and not some mercenary, who came here for a few years and left. He had planted roots here in Los Angeles with his family, helped recruit players who would be the core of the team’s future and seemed interested in being a part of the franchise even after he was done playing. I compared his time with the Lakers to that of Wilt Chamberlain, who played his final five seasons with the Lakers, won a championship, got his jersey retired and will always be remembered as one of the greatest Lakers ever.
James can still have that storybook ending in Los Angeles with the Lakers but it will be hard to imagine Lakers fans fully embracing him after retirement if he forces his way out before next season and finishes his career with another franchise.
6. MLS commissioner Don Garber talked to Sports Business Journal this week before the start of the league’s 27th season and touched on the progress towards a 30th team starting play in Las Vegas.
“We continue to be in very, very active discussions with Wes (Edens, Milwaukee Bucks co-owner) and his partner (Nassef Sawiris, who co-owns Aston Villa of the Premier League with Edens) and are really excited about their plans for Vegas and their ideas about an almost unprecedented stadium project, certainly in our league. I look forward to continuing those conversations, and I’m confident we’ll both make progress and hopefully get something over the finish line… We’re just very focused on finalizing our 30th club that we hope to be in Las Vegas.”
7. Here are some odds if you’re thinking about placing a wager today brought to you by Circa Sports.
8. Here’s the local pro sports schedule for today brought to you by Yaamava’.
7:00 p.m. San Jose Sharks at Anaheim Ducks – Bally Sports SoCal
9. Here are the “get in” price for a ticket on TickPick if you want to go to a game today.
San Jose Sharks at Anaheim Ducks – $26
10. On Monday’s The Arash Markazi Show, we talked about LeBron James’ NBA All-Star Weekend back in Cleveland and if his days with the Lakers are numbered.
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