I may not be a fan, but I have to admit that LeBron James is great. I might still be in the Michael Jordan camp when it comes to who I think the GOAT is, but I acknowledge that the kid from Akron, Ohio, deserves to be in that conversation. It’s splitting hairs between the two, and I don’t begrudge anyone for thinking he’s the best to ever do it.
James added another feather to his cap against the Suns by notching assist number 10,000, which put him in a unique position in the NBA pantheon. He’s the only player to have at least 10,000 points, rebounds and assists.
James’ greatness is not in question. Hell, the man is so good that his continued success is apparently convincing legends from other sports to unretire.
However, many of James’ achievements at the tail end of his career have come with disappointments from the perspective of a title contender. With one of the worst-constructed rosters in history, it feels like eons ago when the Lakers were second most-favored team to win the title at the start of the 2021-22 season. The only guys ahead of them were the Brooklyn Nets (who are also deeply struggling, but that’s a story for another day.)
Unfortunately, James has had his fair share of injuries, plus Anthony Davis simply can’t stay healthy, which brings legitimate concern that he can’t be the franchise cornerstone after James hangs it up or decides to play wherever Bronny gets drafted on his last year in the league. The Lakers are an awful 29-38 now, which is barely clinging to the ninth seed.
Their latest defeat, a 140-111 destruction at the hands of the Phoenix Suns, was never even close. The Suns were already up by 26 points at the end of the first quarter, and were on total cruise control.
Devin Booker dropped 30 points and 10 assists on them. There was little the Lakers could do to stop him as he finished shooting 12 of 25 from the field in 32 minutes of play.
Booker got plenty of help from DeAndre Ayton, who the Lakers had no answer for. Ayton had 23 points and 16 rebounds while shooting an easy 11 of 14 from the field.
Hell, even Cam Payne channeled his inner Point God in a performance that would make Chris Paul proud. Payne had nine points, four rebounds and 11 assists in just 24 minutes of play.
It’s been a long and painful road for the Lakers since that championship in the bubble. That was the same period where the Suns went 8-0 but didn’t manage to sneak into the play-ins, but the fortunes of the two teams have greatly differed since 2020. The Suns, who have kept their core intact and added Paul last season, were NBA Finalists last year and hold the best record in the league by a comfortable margin. They’re almost guaranteed to have homecourt advantage through the entire playoffs.
The Lakers, on the other hand, have re-jigged the roster but have never been able to overcome Davis’ brittle body. They were dumped out of the playoffs by the Suns last season after Davis hurt his groin, and they’re again struggling because of his absence this season. The problem is that this year’s team looks even more of a bad fit to deal with prolonged absences from their stars. The addition of Russell Westbrook is still a headscratcher, especially when they could have probably gotten a floor spacer like Buddy Hield in the offseason.
Westbrook, who is going through a tough time with coming to terms with his game’s decline, was never going to be the answer to the Lakers’ title hopes. He’s still capable of great things in spurts, but his athleticism is beginning its slow down and he seems unable to accept it. He does have someone he could talk to about it in Carmelo Anthony, who eventually accepted that he’d become a role player has had a solid final third to his career.
Hell, he can’t even handle people talking shit about him and calling him Westbrick anymore. Which is funny, because he had no problem being on the other side of the fence in the past.
Most franchises would trade a title for a number of bad years. Just ask the Toronto Raptors, who the Lakers face next. There is absolutely no replacement for a championship in the NBA, because it’s so goddamn hard to win one. I think it’s fair to say, though, that the bubble ring is probably going to be the highlight of James’ tenure in Los Angeles. That’s not a bad thing, but he’s been great for so long that everyone’s expectations are naturally much higher. He’s going to get that scoring record before he retires, but I don’t think he’s going to be seriously contending for a title again.