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For the Los Angeles Lakers, the number of ways in which the season turned to shambles are many, Marc Stein of the New York Times pointed out in a recent piece.
Stein cited the injuries to Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, Tyson Chandler and yes, LeBron James, as one reason the Lakers are headed for a sixth straight year of no postseason.
But injuries don’t tell the whole story — or maybe even half of it, according to Stein.
He also mentioned the Lakers’ failed attempts at a trade for New Orleans Pelicans star Anthony Davis, and Luke Walton’s fading status as coach as two elements that didn’t exactly boost team morale.
“The public nature of the heat Walton took from his own front office made Johnson look impatient and, worse, ramped up the pressure on everyone in the Lakers’ locker room — especially the coach — before they even made it to Thanksgiving,” Stein wrote. “With two years left on a five-year deal, Walton is widely expected to be shoved out of his toasty seat for good at season’s end.”
Of the Davis trade attempts, Stein wrote:
From the minute James arrived in Hollywood, after the Lakers made unsuccessful trade runs at Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, it was known that the team would try to trade for Davis — which meant all four of LA’s top young players were destined to hear their names in trade speculation. Yet the leaguewide consensus was that Davis would not be made available until at least the 2019 off-season, theoretically giving the starlets an opportunity to build something with James — and maybe even change management’s mind about looking externally for LeBron’s superstar sidekick.”
One thing Stein didn’t really mention is the impact this season has clearly had on James physically. While he continues to put up magnificent numbers, he hasn’t looked the same since missing 18 games with a groin injury.
The LeBron of old never would have had his shot blocked by New York Knicks swingman Mario Hezonja with the game on the line — something that happened at Madison Square Garden on Sunday.
Basically, James is getting up there. Not just in age, but in terms of miles. James is 15th all-time in minutes played, and has logged the second-most among active players, trailing only Dallas Mavericks legend Dirk Nowitzki. Difference is, Nowitzki is a role player about ready to retire. James is the man around whom the Lakers are trying to build.
So it’s another trip the lottery for the Lakers, something that became a habit before James arrived. And what happens if they can’t work out a deal for Davis this offseason, and stars such as Leonard, Jimmy Butler of the Philadelphia 76ers or Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors stay put or choose somewhere other than LA?
The answer is it may be more of the same for the Lakers, with James being a year closer to rocking-chair time.
“Sooner than they ever envisioned, Magic (Johnson), (general manager Rob) Pelinka and Jeanie Buss, the Lakers’ owner, are on the clock to make moves that lead to a honeymoon that lasts,” Stein concluded.
And man, he’s right about that one.