There’s no question about LeBron’s status as a top-three player in the NBA. The King has kept himself on his throne, still putting up great numbers. When King James took his talents to Los Angeles, the expectations were set high for LeBron and his new counterparts: a group of talented but inexperienced players who hadn’t had a taste of success since coming into the league, and old vets who were looking to play with the best player on the planet on the biggest stage. This season, however, wasn’t the season that the city of Los Angeles expected it to be. After losing 111-106 to ex-Laker D’Angelo Russell and the red-hot Brooklyn Nets on Friday night, LeBron and the Lakers are officially out of playoff contention. This breaks LeBron’s streak of 13 straight playoffs, and for the Lakers, extending their streak to six consecutive missed playoffs.
To most, this is a big deal. Whether it be sports analysts who are focused on LeBron, Lakers fans who are wondering why their team isn’t cohesive or an avid NBA fan who is taken by storm, the buildup to the Lakers season ending after 82 games (again) has been apparent in a lot of events and trends this season. These are the reasons why the Lakers struggled this season and won’t be playing playoff basketball.
1. Lebron missed games with his groin injury
In his 16 seasons in the NBA, LeBron has never really had a significant injury like this one. He missed 18 games with a groin injury. No, this team was not built around LeBron so they shouldn’t have collapsed the way they did. But LeBron is the best player on the planet, and adding him to your squad creates habit to rely on him. Losing him is detrimental (just look at the Cavaliers and Miami Heat after LeBron left). Losing him to injury for 18 games dropped the Lakers from 4th to 9th.
2. Trade Rumors with Anthony Davis
As much as we all wanted the fairy tale story of Davis taking his talents to Hollywood and joining LeBron to take down the infamous Warriors and cure the NBA of the powerhouse that they are, it didn’t pan out that way. As much as Davis is hurting from it, so are the Lakers. It had a massive mental impact on Lakers, especially the young ones. In the trade talks earlier this season, the Lakers had offered up many of their young players to appease the Pelicans for Davis. The deals thrown on the table were ridiculous. The Lakers nearly clearing their roster for him. After talks broke down, you could tell the Lakers players had a different temperament during games, showing less effort, not playing as hard as they were earlier in the season. It’s demoralizing when your team is willing to deal you that easily and makes it public that they are going to trade and then don’t. Young players would be affected by this more as well.
3. The Lakers just flat out aren’t good
I’d be lying if I said the Lakers don’t have good young talent on their roster and good players. On paper, a team like the Lakers led by LeBron should be making the playoffs. However, when they are terrible shooting the ball collectively, there’s no way they can expect to be playing basketball in April and keep playing until the summer. Per NBA.com, the Lakers currently sit 29th in both 3PT% and FT% respectively, and sit at 28th in total turnovers this season. I could go on and on, but as much as we wanted to believe in the Lakers this season, they just flat out weren’t, and still aren’t, good.
4. Luke Walton adjusting to LeBron
There’s always talk about “Is LeBron a coach killer?” with the way he takes over teams in all aspects. First of all, I don’t think it’s fair to say that LeBron is a coach killer. LeBron is smarter than most of the coaches in the league and he is looking for and wants to mold a coach into someone that is on his thinking level. That’s fair to do in my opinion, because he’s the best player in the world and has the highest basketball IQ of any player that has ever been in the NBA.
That being said, Walton seems to be a different kind of coach than LeBron has had. Tyronn Lue fit LeBron well because he let LeBron be himself and they almost never conflicted because he knew that if they both wanted to accomplish the goal of bringing a championship to Cleveland he needed to buy into what LeBron was bringing. Erik Spoelstra was more of a coach with LeBronctu, teaching him things and wanting him to play more selfless basketball that would only make him a better player. LeBron has even said before that he learned a lot from his time in Miami (which is why he went there in the first place). What does that all have to do with Walton? Well Walton falls somewhere in the middle. He feels obligated to coach LeBron, but LeBron is at the stage now where he doesn’t really want to be coached like he used to be, because he doesn’t need it. Walton and LeBron are doing their best to win and to bring up the young talent they’ve acquired for their first season together. It is not ideal to how Lakers fans and Magic Johnson drew it up.
5. The NBA is really, really good this year
Any NBA fan can blame the Lakers for just being out right awful, but there’s other factors that are involved that aren’t particular to the Lakers. Mainly that there are many more, better teams and players than there were last season. Despite the statistics of this year, I am a firm believer that Walton’s squad would be in the playoffs if they were transported back in time to last season. Yes, the West was a lot stronger, but the East was much weaker, so the tough games that the Lakers have been losing would end up becoming wins and would attribute to their win totals. In addition, at the end of last season as the playoff picture formulated, the bottom Western Conference teams weren’t impressive so fighting for those last few sports would be much easier. This season, so many superstars have stepped up their game: Kyrie, Embiid, Giannis, Harden, and Paul George being the most surprising. The league is better than it was last year, which is an attributes to why LeBron & Co. have been struggling to win.
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