Graphic By Dalan Overstreet
Ladies and gentlemen, we are on the cusp of a new NBA season. In what seemed like an incredibly short offseason was filled to the brim with major roster changes. Kawhi is now a Raptor, Carmelo Anthony made the move to Houston and Demarcus Cousins joined the Warriors, adding to their already ungodly roster. Who the Hell cares about any of that, though, because LeBron James is a Laker now.
LeBron signed with the Lakeshow in a relatively quiet way and it still kinda feels weird. It becomes even more odd when looking at the people LeBron will be working with this year. The King on THIS roster, one that features some of his old rivals, someone whose father is Laval Ball and JaVale McGee, will be must see television.
Personally, I think the Lakers will be successful this year. This team will probably start slow, as did the Heat in 2010 and the Cavs in 2014 following major roster shake-ups that come with signing James. The Lakers may have to sign or trade for a shooter or two, but overall the roster is solid. I project 45-50 wins and a top five finish in the conference, losing in the playoffs to either the Warriors or Rockets in the Conference Semis. Not bad at all for a first campaign.
You might ask why I consider a second round exit after signing a guy that has been to the Finals eight straight seasons successful. One, they’re not better than the Warriors or Rockets and I don’t consider losing to superior teams to exactly be a failure. Also, it is hard to imagine THIS is the ultimate vision for the Lakers. The team is a patchwork of individuals with ulterior goals spanning beyond the 2018-19 campaign. You can really separate this team into three factions: The Place Holders, The Try Outs and LeBron James.
The Place Holders
The Lakers now have the most coveted player in the Association, but even he isn’t solely enough to win a title in a league with the Warriors in it. Ideally, they would’ve liked to pair him with at least one more star to become real contenders. Well, suffice it to say, that didn’t happen as Paul George stayed put and the front office elected not to trade for Kawhi.
Los Angeles plan again to throw their hat in the Free Agency ring next season, hopefully landing Kevin Durant to create possibly the best duo in league history. As for this season, there was a void in the roster that needed to be filled, just not filled long term. Here enters our Placeholders: Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee, Michael Beasely and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
All of these guys have signed one-year deals with the franchise, totaling $31,342,887 on the payroll. This number would be enough for a Superstar like Durant, given that he has multiple revenue streams and has proven willing to take a pay cut in order to win games. If not, they could reasonably sign two lesser stars for a more well-rounded roster. As for those I dubbed “Placeholders”, they are all, to some degree, risks to sign and will have a year to prove themselves worthy of larger contracts with other, probably lesser, teams. Maybe Rondo gets another deal with Los Angeles, but the rest are auditioning for the remaining 29 squads.
In the post-Kobe era (which really started a few years before his retirement), the Lakers have primarily focused on collecting draft picks to hoard talented young players. To their credit, they’ve done a pretty good job of drafting quality guys. Since 2014, the Lakers have picked the likes of Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., Josh Hart, Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram (they’ve traded Randle and Clarkson since). The Lakers always kinda burned themselves in Free Agency til this past summer, but at least there was a solid collection of young guys to push the franchise forward.
Well, after signing LeBron, priorities have to shift from later to now. You can’t sign a Superstar and play the waiting game. The youth that was once considered the future of the franchise will have to grow up fast if they want to stay on the roster long term. If the front office is successful and signs another star, let’s say Durant, the team will look for players, most likely vets, that can contribute immediately. In this scenario, none of the young guys are safe, so they will have to prove themselves championship worthy this season.
LeBron is the best player in the World. If you disagree just know you lie to yourself everyday. As the top player of our current century, LeBron has accomplished just about everything in the game, but I’m willing to bet he would like another MVP and to even up that Finals record a bit. Best case scenario this year is third place in the conference. Then why join this team now? Well, there’s an elephant in the room.
I don’t like to be the guy to say it is about Hollywood, but it is clearly about Hollywood. LeBron is comfortably in the latter half of his playing career and is planning for what is next. Tinseltown is the Entertainment Capital of the World and there is no better place to start a media empire. James started the production company SpringHill with his business partner Maverick Carter and they have already made some impressive moves. The two have The Shop, an informal discussion show on HBO, and have production deals with Netflix, Showtime and ABC in place.
The company has also officially announced production of Space Jam 2, a follow-up to the fondly remembered but actually really terrible Warner Bros. film, which will star James. LeBron has stated before that he has billion dollar aspirations and that can’t be achieved as a Basketball Player alone. In what is a league still dominated by Golden State and the Lakers largely in a “wait and see” period with the rest of the roster, James will take this time to focus heavily on his other ventures, namely entertainment. He’ll still give the team roughly 26, 7, and 6 per game though.
The Lakers as a collective will be a moderate success. The Warriors are still out of range and the Rockets are better on paper, but third place is up for grabs. If the pieces are functioning, I could even see a scenario in which they could beat Houston, a team featuring stars that have often come up short in the playoffs (though I wouldn’t put my money on it). The ultimate team prize feels out of reach, but the ultimate individual prizes for everyone on the roster is within their grasps.