Photo Credit: Sporting News
The 2019 Lakers have been more dramatic than even the most dramatic episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians, and it’s only getting worse. The Lakers fell Monday night to the Clippers 113-105 in a game where the Lakers looked completely disinterested while still trying to make the playoffs and the Clippers looked how a cohesive, playoff caliber team is supposed to look. Oh, and LeBron James got shoved in the back by Kyle Kuzma just so he would attempt to play defense. I mean this in the best way possible: ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!? James is the greatest player of all time in my opinion. His skill set and what he has accomplished in his career have set an expectation for him night in and night out. He is expected to be the best player on the floor and lead his team to wins and successful playoff runs. Getting shoved into contesting a shot is completely unacceptable and downright offensive to the game of basketball. James needs to change his on the court attitude and effort if he wants to be considered a leader of men and the GOAT.
James’ credibility as a leader is in jeopardy. Great players like James are expected to set the standard for their teams and elevate the play of those around them through direct on the court impact and through their presence in the locker room. If James has done anything this year he has deconstructed and divided a locker room that was on the fun side just a season ago. Regardless of whether or not James was directly working with management to organize a trade for Anthony Davis, James has created distance between himself and the young core of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kuzma, Josh Hart, and Ivica Zubac before he was sent to the Clippers; not a move someone who is in a position of mentorship and leadership generally does. Speaking of Zubac, he had this to say after the Clippers blew out the New York Knicks on Sunday night: “When I was with the Lakers, we didn’t have nights like this. Every game was a close game for us (the Lakers), but now with the Clippers, this team is really locked in, every possession against every team.” Is this a shot at James who has taken possessions off in recent contests? I think it most certainly is. Think about this for a second: The Clippers traded their only All-Star on the roster and have amassed a 7-4 record since then. Meanwhile, the Lakers have the greatest player of all time and are a measly 3-7 with losses to 4 teams who sit outside the playoffs, three of which are in the running for a top 5 lottery pick (Hawks, Grizzlies, Pelicans, and Suns). Yes, the Lakers may have a better winning percentage on the season when James plays, but that does not take away from the fact that he is likely causing some regression in the young core.
The scariest thing to me about this season’s version of James is his complete disinterest on defense. Back to Monday night: the Lakers are down 8 points to the Clippers with under 5 minutes to play in the 4thquarter. On a baseline out of bounds play, James’ man runs to the top of the key beyond the 3 point line while Kuzma’s man, 3 point threat Danillo Gallinari runs to the wing and drags Kuzma into a stationary James at the elbow. Rather than switch or attempt to contest the shot as basketball fundamentals would teach you, James looks totally content to stand in place and watch the ball fly through the air. Kuzma had other ideas and emphatically shoved James towards Gallinari to contest the shot. Oh boy. Maybe the switch wasn’t communicated by James, but for the player widely considered to have the best basketball IQ in the NBA, this shot should have been contested without a shove from Kuzma.
James has a unique skill set and a winning pedigree that has propelled him GOAT status while he still has a few good years left. However, if his disinterest in leading and putting forth effort on a nightly basis on both ends continues and the Lakers cannot find a way to turn their fortunes around this or even next season, James’ legacy is in danger.