LeBron James

LeBron James as a Laker: Thoughts on aftermath, Kobe, chemistry, LaVar, and more

The NBA landscape experienced another seismic shift with LeBron James now taking his talents to the Los Angeles Lakers. Two of our editors and resident Laker fans share reactions and thoughts on what’s to come with LeBron in LA.

Martin to BJ:

The first thing I need to know is how you’re absorbing this as a Kobe fan, not just a Laker fan.

As a huge Kobe Bryant fan, this entire LeBron James playing for the Los Angeles Lakers thing is interesting to me. Fellow Kobe fans know that we’ve all spent a considerable amount of time sculpting arguments on why Bryant is superior to James, often citing his killer instinct, his ability to assert himself offensively by going on crazed scoring binges and everyone’s favorite… five championships. Now, Laker fans have to train themselves to embrace the man they’ve spent years abhorring.

I overcame my mild LeBron hatred in 2013, and I’ve really come to appreciate him and what he’s contributed to the game on and off the court over the past several seasons. I don’t feel any indifference about the move, because I’m eager for the Lakers to return to their championship glory, which seems imminent with LeBron James now on the roster. I’m not worried about James supplanting Bryant in the context of Los Angeles Lakers basketball, because I think we all recognize that it’s damn-near impossible. People will stir the pot by donning LeBron as the “greatest Laker ever,” and from a talent standpoint that may be true. James might possibly be the most gifted player to ever wear a Lakers uniform. But when you’re talking about contributions to the Lakers exclusively, I don’t think James leapfrogging Bryant or even Magic Johnson can happen.  

I know that you’re high on Lonzo Ball’s ability to play alongside LeBron. Does Lonzo’s ceiling get higher, and also, what’s your thinking on how the dynamics will be with LeBron and LaVar Ball?

I definitely think LeBron elevates Lonzo Ball’s ceiling, but I was already a big believer in Ball coming back a much better player in year No. 2 with the work he was going to put in this offseason before being shelved for the summer with a torn meniscus. Agreeing with LaVar Ball isn’t always my thing, but I think his notion that flanking Ball with elite-level talent will only bring out the best in him, has major credence. Yes, that’s expected to be the case with most basketball players, but sometime’s it doesn’t shake out that way. I think it will for Ball, as I think he and James will find ways to compliment each other nicely.

Obviously, Ball’s shooting may prove to be a huge roadblock in the on-court developmental journey he and James are soon to embark on, but from mid-December until Lonzo started dealing with knee issues in January, he was a reliable three-pointer shooter and showed progress in the catch-and-shoot department as well. There’s are a slew of reasons as to why James committed to Los Angeles, and Lonzo Ball is in the thick of them somewhere. James is excited to play with Ball for a reason, and we’ll see why as the season unfurls. 

As for LaVar and LeBron, I just want things to be cordial. There’s no need for LaVar to infringe here, although he’ll most certainly feel entitled, especially when the Lakers start racking up wins. With Lonzo on the roster, distancing themselves from LaVar will prove to be a tough task, but the Lakers should take preventive steps now to make sure Mr. Big Baller doesn’t damage things with LeBron/Lonzo and the Lakers. Whether that comes in the form of a sit-down meeting with the Lakers’ brass and LeBron and LaVar, or a message sent in a discrete, yet forceful way, Los Angeles must take measures that helps all parties involved to foster a healthy relationship, one rooted in respect. 

BJ to Martin:

Do you think the Lakers’ young guys (Ball, Ingram, Kuzma, Hart) can handle the pressures that come from playing alongside LeBron James, and how will they handle the challenges that will surely present themselves throughout the course of the season?

I think the young Lakers plan to embrace their roles playing with LeBron. The pressures that come with those roles will be real. LeBron’s presence alone should make this a playoff team. That creates pressure on the young guys to perform because if a playoff appearance doesn’t happen then most of the blame would likely fall on them.

Having the likes of LeBron, and now experienced veterans like Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, and JaVale McGee, I think helps create an atmosphere where the young Laker pieces can make serious growth in training camp and throughout the season.

Each player will be their own case based on that growth, and their skill sets.

I think the game gets much easier and more fun for Ball, and LeBron’s confidence in him can propel his own confidence as a better shooter and overall player. They already compliment each other as high-level passers.

Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma are challenged with merging with LeBron as adjacent forwards. They both have the versatility to not only become beneficiaries of LeBron’s gravity but to help LeBron in situations where they need to be aggressive and look to make their own plays. And I’m looking for Josh Hart to make a visible leap next year as a utility off-guard, too. All of these guys are about to become better basketball players.

What’s the best approach Luke Walton can take as a coach in this situation, and why should LeBron be excited to play for him?

He should definitely approach it with all of the excitement I’m sure he has about coaching LeBron James. I think he should have as much fun with it as he can. Sure, this also creates pressure for him, too. He’s now in charge of what people expect to be the new version of Showtime. But this is the challenge every coach should want.

Tactically, I think that’s how Walton approaches this. Make sure the emphasis is on pushing and sharing the ball, using your two lead playmakers now in LeBron James and Lonzo Ball. Walton has several activators outside of LeBron who can create their own shots, and I think he’ll want to use that dynamic along with LeBron’s IQ and mastery to inflect the kind of free-flowing system he envisions.

What should excite LeBron about Walton strategically, which is one of the reasons why I loved the Walton hire for LA, is his time with and understanding of the Golden State Warriors. Walton and LeBron have spent plenty of time with them, up close and personal. As they begin to build their roster and new culture, they will be able to use that to their advantage.

When you and I spoke on the phone about the LeBron to LA move, you expressed concern over the Lakers’ number of forwards. Can you explain why a logjam at that position is bothersome for you, and what steps the Lakers can take going forward to address it?

Well, they already got started by letting Julius Randle walk to sign with the Pelicans. There just wasn’t enough room for Randle, Brandon Ingram, and Kyle Kuzma to all flourish with LeBron in the picture now. To have an excess of playmaking ability is a good problem to have, but it’s better to have that ability spread out and balanced amongst all positions.

We don’t know for sure yet if both Ingram and Kuzma are secure going forward, but I think they can both play with LeBron and their versatility can be of great help to him. In the meantime, the Lakers guard core now consists of Ball, Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. This roster is going to see more tweaking over the years, and possibly even before the start of next season. 

The only steps going forward for the Lakers will be keeping a healthy balance of youth, talent, and playmaking around LeBron James for the next four years.

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