LA-Bron is in Effect, There is Still Work to be Done
Did you feel that yesterday? Did you feel that earthquake LeBron James sent throughout the NBA as he decided to join the Los Angeles Lakers on a four-year deal worth $154 million.
The NBA went from being an old folktale many had heard and grown tired of with the Golden State Warriors controlling the narrative to a new compelling campfire story. The back-to-back champs are still the gatekeepers of the association, but James and the Lakers certainly have their attention.
You can just hear Lakers’ fans rejoicing while others clutch on to their Kobe Bryant jerseys still stupefied. If you listen even closer, you could probably hear Lavar Ball laughing saying, “I told you so”.
Beyond all of the pandemonium, the one that is smiling ear-to-ear is Magic Johnson.
When he joined the Lakers in February of 2017, Magic’s arrival seemed like nothing more than another old school player joining a team that he had success with in his prime as a player. However, it was significantly different than when Isaiah Thomas assumed a position up top with the New York Knicks, Joe Dumars with the Detroit Pistons, Larry Bird and the Indiana Pacers, or Boston with Danny Ainge because there were high expectations that superseded him. Expectations of signing the league’s biggest stars and winning titles with them.
Johnson immediately infused the 16-time world champs with a level of energy they had lacked since the late great Dr. Jerry Buss passed away. The Lakers lacked vision, clarity, and a sense of direction under his son, Jim.
Magic brought back the “magic” that made LA one of the more storied franchises in the league other than the Boston Celtics. He brought back pride for Lakers fans. And most of all, he instilled hope and a very lofty promise of giving the city of Los Angeles a winning product it deserved. All the while he was smiling and being the charismatic person he has been since his days at Michigan State.
Johnson just pulled off the biggest free agency signing in Lakers’ history. For the span of a year, it was widely recognized that he would put the team in a position to make a run at King James.
Around the NBA’s trade deadline earlier this year, the Lakers seemed to be reeling or in a tailspin as news came out that they would, in fact, not pursue James this summer. In turns out it was all smoke and mirrors as they knew, all along, that they would roll out the red carpet for him.
Signing James proved that Johnson can indeed recruit the league’s best players, in this case THE best player, and get them to ink a deal. Whether it was LeBron’s legacy or simply the lure of Los Angeles, Magic found a way to sell LA LA Land to a player that already has a vacation home there.
Signing James shows that the Lakers are a legitimate threat to snag big names in free agency for the next few years as long as LeBron and Magic are at the helm. Also, it speaks to the relationship these two 6’9″ men developed.
So, what now for James, Johnson, and the new-look Lakers?
Well, it is about building a team that can compete for championships. Like Scottie Pippen once said, “It don’t mean a thing without the ring”.
James is joining a team that features young, promising talent in players like Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, and Brandon Ingram as they averaged 42.4 points together last season. Each of them are versatile on the offensive side of the ball. As a team, they finished 11th in points per game, but they finished seventh in assists. James has said on many occasions that he wants to play off the ball and Ball can help him in that regard.
The Lakers also excel in transition as they only finished second behind the Golden State Warriors in their percentage of fast break points. They gave up a staggering 109.6 points per game, but their defensive rating was higher than the Cavs as they finished 12th in the league. The best part of their defense was their ability to close out on shooters as they only allowed opponents to shoot 34.6 percent from deep, good enough for third in the league.
All of these things are nice, but the NBA is a place where star power is needed to hoist up a championship. The Lakers need to get James some help.
Los Angeles is hot on the trail of DeMarcus Cousins as a one-year max deal will probably do the trick for him. In addition, the purple and gold are keen on figuring out the Sudoku puzzle that is the San Antonio Spurs. They want Kawhi Leonard, but the Spurs seem unlikely to deal the former Finals MVP unless they are hijacking the team they deal him to.
The Lakers already struck out in getting Paul George so it is imperative for them to get Cousins and Leonard to even have a chance at making it past the second round in the Western Conference. The Golden State Warriors are not going anywhere and the Houston Rockets will not fold either.
— FOX Sports (@FOXSports) July 2, 2018
Along with James, the Lakers have signed the likes of Lance Stephenson and JaVale McGee on one-year deals worth $6.9 million combined. In addition, they re-signed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, one-year worth $12 million, and renounced the contract of Julius Randle, creating $12.4 million in cap space. As a result, they were able to dole out another one-year deal in the direction of Rajon Rondo worth $9 million.
Now, a new problem has revealed itself though for Los Angeles. One that makes things much more complicated and that is money. It will be interesting to see if Johnson has one more trick up his sleeve to get another marquee player or two. The four-year clock starts now for Magic, LeBron, and the Lakers to figure this thing out.
Coming up short on titles will not be tolerated in Los Angeles.