The Lakers May Be a Wreck ..... but They'll Be Fun.
Photo Courtesy of TMZ
The Lakers are once again must-see TV. Only this time, their post-game pressers, locker room interviews, and practice reports may be just as interesting as their games.
First and foremost, they have the best player in the world in LeBron James suiting up in purple and gold. That alone is enough to divert eyeballs down to L.A. But more than that, the optics of seeing the best player in the game playing for arguably the best franchise is irresistibly rich with subtext and history. Because once again, the Lakers have been able to pair greatness with their time-honored glamour. And when the Staples Center lights dim, the court becomes illuminated like a stage, and LeBron comes racing down the lane on a fastbreak and elevates for a tomahawk dunk underneath all the banners and hanging jerseys, the still images will be simply perfect.
But LeBron is where things only start to get interesting.
After signing Lebron, the Lakers signed Lance Stephenson, Rajon Rondo, JaVale McGee, and Michael Beasley, and basically turned Staples Center into a playground for technical fouls, on-court flubs, drama, and plenty of intriguing storylines for our entertainment.
Let the 29 other teams around the league know that they may as well concede, because the Shaqtin’ a Fool MVP will be a Laker this year. Unlike in Golden State, where Steph and KD take league MVP votes away from each other, the inevitable silliness contributed by each player on the Lakers will actually help each other’s candidacy.
Imagine a sequence in which Rondo starts a transition by corralling a rebound and using the ball to wipe his sweat, followed by an outlet down the court to JaVale, who decides the wave off Lance as they charge down the court. Lance keeps moving full speed ahead in case JaVale wants to find him in the corner, but the second Lance passes by LeBron, he goes down like a tower, forgetting that LeBron is now his teammate. JaVale ignores the bizarre sequence and decides to keep going towards the open basket, but ultimately misses. Beasley grabs the rebound and decides to pull the ball out and slow things down. He has the ball at the top of the key, and in an attempt to make a play, mistakes a ref for a teammate and hurls the ball toward the zebra-striped shirt who is out of bounds. And we go the other way. There are just too many opportunities for things to go wrong for the Lakers on the court, and plenty of guys who are capable of making things go wrong.
LeBron and Lance’s dynamic will be something to keep an eye on. Seeing the two of them in the same jersey will be a strange sight at first, given their ear-blowing playoff history and the fact that Lance has been a thorn in LeBron’s side for years. Now the tables are turned, though. Instead of unleashing a heightened level of hustle and energy against LeBron, Lance will have to redirect it into the path of opponents while working alongside Lebron.
Can Lance do it though? Historically, he’s never brought the same level of passion against any other opponent besides LeBron. It takes an adversary at the level of LeBron to put Lance in that cerebral and emotional zone. This season may feature nightly experiments for Lance in which he tries to find an opponent to replace LeBron as a worthy foe. Will Lance be able to find a muse to help him get his fix? Or will he discern that it can only be LeBron? Lance will revel at the chance to go at LeBron in practice.
Speaking of practice, the stories coming out of the Lakers’ practices will surely be heated. The Lakers essentially have two teams on their roster, a young team (featuring Ball, Kuzma, Ingram, and Hart) and a veteran team (with Lance, Rondo, McGee, and Beasley). These two teams will be competing for the chance to play alongside LeBron in the most high-leverage games. Hart will be competing against Lance for the two-guard spot. Ingram and Kuzma will be going against Beasley and JaVale for spots in the frontcourt. Minutes will be up for grabs, and with all these personalities pining after the same thing, practices could be as dramatic as actual games.
Though, the most intriguing matchup will be between Lonzo and Rondo as they both go after the primary point guard spot. Rondo is a champion, and his moniker of “Playoff Rondo” is well-earned, but he wasn’t brought on to be part of the Lakers long term plans. Lonzo is coming off a solid, if a bit underwhelming, rookie season. So while the job looks like it still belongs to Lonzo, it could be gone if he doesn’t showed marked improvement from last season. Will Rondo serve as a wise mentor to Lonzo, or will he covet the starting job and function as bully big brother? If Lonzo doesn’t elevate his game, both in-game and in practice, Rondo could easily take his minutes and touches. Should this situation become a reality, it could whip up an even bigger storm...
The reverse situation is also possible. Lonzo could play exceedingly well, and force Rondo to the bench. If Rondo isn’t able to execute his offense because of limited playing time, he could become frustrated like he did during his time with the Mavericks. Rondo is one of the smartest basketball minds playing right now, but he doesn’t always see eye-to-eye with his coaches. He and Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle were constantly at odds over offensive execution. Does Luke Walton have more clout than Rick Carlisle to avoid Rondo’s wrath? Certainly not. How Luke is able to maintain control of this team with so many vets like Rondo will be an important plot point throughout the Lakers’ season.
Like most of LeBron’s teams after he signs as a free agent, the Lakers could struggle to start the season. The team’s hierarchy wasn’t clear in Miami, so they started with a 9-8 record. Roles weren’t well-defined at the beginning of LeBron’s second run in Cleveland, so they started 19-20. The shake-out of this Lakers team is even more unclear than those other two teams. It’s not even certain who the second-best player is yet. So the Lakers may have an adjustment period where their record says they’re struggling. A struggling Lakers team, to go along with a reduced role for Lonzo, could bring out the NBA’s most outspoken basketball dad, Lavar Ball.
If the Lakers didn’t have enough personalities inside the locker room to contend with, they’ll have the loudest one outside of it to contend with. Should Rondo close a tightly-contested loss instead of Lonzo, Lavar will come out of the woodwork citing Lonzo’s clutch gene and how Lonzo has to be put in close games down the stretch. If the Lakers have a poor string of games, the name Luke Walton will surely be found in a Lavar Ball soundbite. The Lakers have enough hotheads to cause the locker room to implode on its own, and Lavar is just waiting on the outside, ready with a single comment, to set everybody off.
Photo Courtesy of Silver Screen and Roll
A lot of Lakers fans will also have their eyes on another current spectator, though a much beloved one, in Kobe Bryant. The arrival of LeBron has rallied many Lakers fans into a joyous frenzy, but it has also rubbed Kobe-stans the wrong way. Whether or not Kobe and LeBron were actually rivals (they never met in the playoffs), is irrelevant. Ultimate Kobe fans will have to juggle the pleasure they get from seeing the Lakers win with the sting that comes from having it done at the hands of LeBron James. How they treat LeBron during the home opener, as well as the next four years, will be worth noting, especially if he helps the Lakers win at the highest level. The defaced-mural count will be insane.
Perhaps the best judge of what this Lakers team is capable of will come after a bad loss. It may be the young guys’ inexperience that costs the team a win. Or maybe a knucklehead move was made that ended up securing a loss (a scenario LeBron is all too familiar with). Either way, LeBron will take full undue responsibility as usual, coach Walton will remain level-headed, but the rest of the roster’s reaction will be unpredictable.
Rondo will call it like it is, whether it’s deficiencies in the rotation, the play-calling, or the coaching. Lance’s reaction will be as volatile as they come. Should the one bad loss turn into many, the content from the locker room interviews will be hysterically cheeky.
The battle for playing time alongside LeBron between the young guys and the vets will be real. The Lonzo vs. Rondo matchup could turn contentious, and spill over off the court. The on-court gaffes for this team will be plentiful. And with a real chance for early-on struggles, there is a lot of opportunity for things to go wrong, for relationships to be tense, and for the entire team to be just on the verge of combustibility. And all it will take is a pointed salvo from Lavar Ball to set the whole thing ablaze.
Let’s just hope Lance has enough left in his lungs to blow out the fire.