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No Matter What, It’s Time for the LeBron-Lakers Breakup

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James

The Los Angeles Lakers may be the most influential franchise in the sports world.

A team whose name rings bells because of their storied history, their Mt. Rushmore features NBA luminaries like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson, and Jerry West. Legends treat the opportunity to play for the Lakers like men treat the women of their dreams.

With all of that said, it makes perfect sense why LeBron James joined the Lakers. Aside from the media opportunities that could afforded to him living in L.A. and what surely a sincere desire to deliver another championship to the Lakers for the notoriously competitive Bryant after his tragic passing. Though painted as rivals, Bryant and James enjoyed a friendly relationship, looking at each other how gladiators must have seen other men with the courage and skill to battle in the Coliseum.

No Matter What, It’s Time for LeBron-Lakers Breakup

James delivered that championship in his second season with L.A., leading the Lakers through the NBA Bubble while the world took on a distinctly dystopian feature.

Since then, there’s been nothing but angst from him and the team. Indeed, had L.A. not defeated the Miami Heat in the 2020 NBA Finals, many would wonder why James hadn’t already left. With his streak of 13 straight playoff berths and eighth straight NBA Finals berths broken in his first season with the Lakers, James has hasn’t won a game past the semifinal round of the NBA Playoffs since winning his last ring.

A Series of Unfortunate Postseasons

2021 NBA Playoffs

The season after L.A. won the title, they were bounced in the First Round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs by Devin Booker and the Phoenix Suns.

In that series, James was outperformed on the scoreboard, averaging 23.3 points per game to Booker’s 29.7 points per game. However, Anthony Davis was a major letdown, averaging 17.4 points per game on 40.3 percent shooting from the field. Davis would sustain a groin injury in Game 4, all but cementing the Lakers’ fate.

It’s the only First Round loss of James’ career.

2022 NBA Playoffs

The next postseason, L.A. didn’t make the playoffs at all as James missed significant time with ankle injuries. It would mark the third time in four seasons that he played fewer than 60 games. For reference, he played at least 60 games every season up to signing with the Lakers.

Sensing a theme here?

2023 NBA Playoffs

The 2023 NBA Playoffs were the closest James has been to making it back to the NBA Finals, the ever-aging legend continuing to dodge Father Time on his way to the Western Conference Finals.

However, once there, the Lakers were outclassed by Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets.

With Jokic averaging 27.8 points, 14.5 rebounds, 11.8 assists, 1.3 steals, and 1.3 blocks per game, he was doing all that he could to lead the Nuggets to the NBA Finals. To make matters worse, L.A.’s backcourt was completely outplayed by Denver’s, with Jamal Murray averaging 32.5 points per game alone. Passive and ineffective, D’Angelo Russell and Dennis Schroder averaged 13.3 points per game combined.

2024 NBA Playoffs

After clawing their way into the 2024 NBA Playoffs, the injury-ravaged Lakers are now down 0-2 in the First Round against the Nuggets.

Lacking the athleticism and length necessary to stop Denver on the interior, Davis and James’ near refusal to contest shots around the rim has doomed their backline defense. To make matters worse, Russell is floating around defensively, surveying the scene while doing little to actually affect the game.

With three players ball-watching too often and Rui Hachimura unable to get going, the Lakers stand little chance of advancing in the playoffs. They have to win four out of five games, already a daunting task considering their opponent. Yet, their physical limitations have been too much for them to overcome defensively.

Ultimately, James is now very likely to lose in the First Round for the second time in his career.

Breaking Up the Band

When looking at James’ tenure with the Lakers, it’s been largely unsuccessful. In fact, in many ways it’s resembled the end of Bryant’s career with the Lakers, both megastars struggling to lead a group of misfits to the NBA Finals with a big man as their sidekick.

If James wants to ride off into the sunset on Sunset Boulevard, he needs to reconsider his plans. At his age, hoping for his luck to change with the Lakers is both a stubborn display of confidence and foolhardy. There’s little evidence to suggest that L.A. will play any better than they have the last three seasons.

Unless they acquire a guard from the Atlanta Hawks guard, the Lakers and James should break up this offseason.

If James leaves in the offseason, it gives L.A. the opportunity to reshape their roster with greater financial flexibility. To that point, they’re limited in how they can build around him with no cap space and few draft assets. Ultimately, it undermines their efforts to build a title-winning team.

Still, the Lakers aren’t in the business of rebuilding. A proud franchise, they’re expected to compete for championships year-in and year-out. Furthermore, they haven’t shown themselves to be great at player development in quite a while. To that point, happens with Davis is up in the air. However, they could pivot to building around the All-Star big man while still targeting a point guard on the trade market.

Philadelphia or Phoenix?

Leaving the Lakers in free agency allows James to find a championship-contender that can bring him another ring or two before he retires.

The Philadelphia 76ers present an interesting possibility if he can convince Paul George to join him up north. Their durability will be a concern. Nonetheless, it’s difficult to name a better trio than James, George, and 2023 NBA MVP Joel Embiid. Should the Sixers manage to retain 2024 Most Improved Player finalist Tyrese Maxey as well, they could have the best team in the league.

The Phoenix Suns are another team James should be eyeing. With Booker and Kevin Durant, plenty of pressure is taken off of him offensively. He has familiarity with Suns president and general manager James Jones, who he won three championships with. With three players that could make an All-NBA roster any season, James has as much of a chance to win with the Suns as any team.

In addition, the Suns’ medical staff has long been renowned for their ability to rejuvenate players physically.

James will turn 40 early in the 2024-25 season. He’s also had a laundry list of injuries over the past few seasons, most involving his ankles. If Phoenix lives up to their reputation, James should be spry, lively, and durable. In such a scenario, it’s possible James extends his career. Based on his comments, his health seems to be the biggest determinant in how long he’ll play.


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