He spent the last couple months celebrating Liverpool’s soccer success on Twitter, posting pics from his son’s AAU games on Instagram and occasionally weighing in on the NBA Finals from afar.
It was an unusual spring for LeBron James, whose routine has been to go silent on social media from April to June and transform himself from regular megastar to playoff robot. It’s been unusual for us, too, without James in the hunt for an NBA title — no last-second possessions to analyze, no debates about whether he’s the GOAT.
And now, fewer than 48 hours after the end of the first NBA Finals without him since 2010, that’s all over. Once again, James is the center of the basketball universe and with the Golden State Warriors dynasty wobbling, the pressure is back on him to go win it all.
After one year in basketball purgatory with a roster that never made sense, LeBron got everything he wanted: A second star in Anthony Davis, cap space to add a third and a clean slate without the young players who needed to be developed on a timeline that wasn’t going to fit with what’s left of James’ championship window.
James didn’t so much sign with the Lakers last summer as he and agent Rich Paul commandeered them, telegraphing the Davis move for months with a combination of leaks and threats that left both Los Angeles and New Orleans no choice but to figure out how to get this done.
And the urgency for the Lakers only increased over the last week.
With both Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson suffering injuries during the NBA Finals that will take them out of most or all of the 2019-20 season, the NBA landscape suddenly looks as wide open as it has been in awhile.
If Golden State isn’t the favorite in the West, who is? You can make a case for Houston, which has been close a couple times but hasn’t been able to navigate the playoffs with James Harden as successfully as the regular season. Portland made a nice run to the conference finals this season but doesn’t have enough to win a championship. Denver is promising but young. Oklahoma City is significantly flawed. The Clippers may very well get Kawhi Leonard, but until then, they’re not really worth talking about.
In other words, this is the Lakers’ turn to go for it. They have to. Whether it’s using their cap space to sign Kemba Walker or Jimmy Butler or whoever, the Golden State injuries have given the Lakers this last, best opportunity to build a microwave contender around James as his prime years expire.
It guarantees nothing, of course.
James is going to be 35 in December, and last season was the first time that physical wear-and-tear took him out of a significant number of games. After 16 NBA seasons and 239 career playoff games — the equivalent of three additional regular seasons on his odometer — it’s possible he’ll struggle to be as healthy as he once was.
Davis played at an MVP level for stretches in New Orleans, but he hasn’t done a lot of winning over his seven years in the NBA and will take on a completely different level of pressure and attention in Los Angeles.
And at the end of the day, those two alone probably aren’t going to be enough to win a title. Though the Lakers kept Kyle Kuzma, the trade has left their roster a bit thin. They’ll need someone to play point guard, and they’ll need more outside shooting to put around James and Davis. The acquisitions they make in free agency will be crucial, and if there’s one area where it’s been fair to question James over the years it’s his taste in role players.
But at least we know that James won’t spend the last relevant years of his career as a non-factor. Though the NBA Finals were compelling, at times, the league suffered from James missing the playoffs. It just didn’t feel right.
Anthony Davis and LeBron James will be teammates in Los Angeles after all. (Photo: Jayne Kamin-Oncea, USA TODAY Sports)
What it also means, though, is that there are no excuses for LeBron. No matter how you feel about Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball and whether they were ever going to live up to where they were drafted, the Lakers paid a heavy price to get this deal done — including the No. 4 pick in the upcoming draft on Thursday and a couple more in future years.
When the Lakers signed James, this was always going to be about the here and now. But with the Warriors now suddenly and unexpectedly vulnerable, the Lakers can’t leave any bullets in the chamber in building a championship-level core.
That’s not just on general manager Rob Pelinka: it’s on James, too.
Just like that, he’s back in the mix. After one spring fading into the background with a roster that was never going to be good enough to do anything significant, there are no more excuses and no more years to waste.
Trading for Davis gives the Lakers a real chance, but there’s still more work to do. They better get it right.
Source: Read Full Article