Hot Take Marathon: The Los Angeles Lakers Will Miss the Playoffs
*The NBA offseason is cooling down, but the takes at OTG aren't. This month, we are hitting you with the Hot Take Marathon. Check back every day for a spicy NBA take!*
For the first time in 14 years, LeBron James’ NBA season will be over in April. I know, I know, it’s foolish to bet against “The King.” But Omar Little said it best, “When you come at the king, you best not miss,” so I’m going to take my best shot. Also, this take has become notably cooler since ESPN came out with this:
Let me preface this by saying this take is nothing against LeBron himself, but rather his royal court. He’s surrounded by too many jesters and not enough knights. The Lakers’ offseason has taken the same trajectory as most people’s New Year’s resolutions. You signed up at the gym and killed that first workout, but by day three that gym membership card is buried under candy wrappers and fast food receipts (or locker room discontent and silly turnovers.)
I understand the logic of keeping the cap sheet clear in 2019 by signing a bunch of one-year deals, but did they have to be THOSE one-year deals? One-year deals are great to maintain future cap flexibility. The unforeseen side effect is that they create players looking to get stats to set up their next payday, especially when they’re irrational confidence guys like Lance Stephenson and Michael Beasley. They should have looked to sign more talented players that are either more conducive to winning now (Tyreke Evans, Boogie) or better locker room guys that don’t need the ball to be effective (Trevor Ariza, Wayne Ellington).
There have been rumblings that LeBron is looking to play more off the ball this year. That’s a great strategy to help develop the Lakers’ young talent. It’s not so great when he’s playing off the ball to give way for Stephenson isos, Beasley 20-footers, and Rondo/McGee pick and rolls (which has to be the most significant basketball IQ disparity of a pick and roll duo in NBA history.) Expect to see more of this LeBron:
The West is deep this year. The 10-12 off-days against the likes of Atlanta, Orlando, and Chicago are over for LeBron. Even the West’s bottom-feeders look to make significant strides this year (except for Sacramento, thanks Vlade!)
The Suns’ additions of Trevor Ariza and DeAndre Ayton combined with Devin Booker’s inevitable superstar leap (did you see that Team USA video?!?!) should push them within the realm of respectability. The Grizzlies are returning Mike Conley and Marc Gasol and should at least compete for a playoff spot. My new favorite pick and roll tandem, Luka Doncic and DeAndre Jordan, (along with a diminished incentive for tanking) will even make the Mavericks more competitive.
Plus, just look at the rest of the West. Who are the Lakers knocking off? I think the Warriors, Rockets, Jazz, and Thunder are locks for the playoffs. The Wolves, Nuggets, Blazers, Pelicans, Spurs, and even the Clippers and Grizzlies are all going to be battling with the Lakers to fill the bottom half of the West bracket.
In a conference where seeds three through eight were separated by only two games, continuity is vital. Every win is critical in the West. You can’t be giving away games in December while trying to figure out roles and rotations. Luke Walton did an admirable job with the Lakers last year, but I’m not sure he’s ready to manage that locker room. Even the faintest possibility of a mid-year coaching change only adds to the potential chaos.
LeBron is an intelligent guy (despite what our president thinks). He knows how to take plays off within a game to conserve his energy. I think this year will be an example of that on a broader scale. He’ll try to play more off the ball. But “Off-Ball” LeBron isn’t the player that carries subpar teams through the playoffs.
Even though LeBron has shown no signs of slowing down, Father Time will always be undefeated. Playing into June every year has to be taking its toll. I think having a couple extra months off in the summer would be good for LeBron. It’ll help preserve him for the back half of that five-year deal he just signed when the Lakers can truly contend.
So, LeBron, take the year off. Play 30 minutes a game and let Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, and Lonzo Ball develop their games (or let Rondo, Beasley, and Lance stunt that development.) Don’t just do it for the sake of your career. Do it for the sake of my sanity because I don’t think I could deal with a Lakers playoff run anytime soon.