Let’s start with a thought —
Imagine courting a person that’s completely out of your league. You spend months fixing yourself to act and look as best as you can. You start flaunting all your best accolades — even if most of them were from your distant past — in an attempt to catch that person’s attention.
Eventually, you sense that you’re making progress in your courtship, so you start dreaming about how much of a perfect match you two would be together. You tell all your friends, and they start getting all hyped since the biggest hopeless romantic they know might finally reel in an incredible catch.
And when you finally make your move, you see that feeling is mutual. You two were an inevitable pair, and you’re bound to make each other so much better. Meant-to-be, so it seemed.
The two of you begin to go out, and things immediately get a lot more real. You feel pressured to live up your partner’s lofty image, while your partner meticulously points out your flaws and subtly jabs at you to change them. You try so hard to satisfy your partner, and you start to become so much more willing to sacrifice everything about yourself to try and turn into someone they deserve. When that doesn’t work, you fall into chaos and confusion. You both begin to wonder whether this relationship was actually as ideal as you once believed it would be.
— End thought
That, my fellow basketball fans, is the current state of the LeBron James and Los Angeles Lakers pairing.
The two locked into a glorious 4-year marriage on July 1st, but it’s pretty much been a disaster for both parties through just eight months. The Lakers are set to miss the playoffs for a franchise-record 6th consecutive time. On the other hand, LeBron will miss the postseason for the first time since 2005, and has likely lost his label as the undisputed Best Player in the NBA.
With 17 games remaining, LeBron’s already been put on a minutes restriction, while the team’s precious young pieces, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball, have officially been shut down for the rest of the year.
Oh, and Alex Caruso is playing 30 minutes a night, and was on the floor as the third high-five recipient when LeBron passed MJ on the all-time scoring list (That extremely depressing high-five order was: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, then Rajon Rondo, third was Caruso, and finally JaVale McGee).
But just as in any new relationship, there should always be optimism in the chance of rekindling the fire and idealism that brought two lovers together in the first place.
I may not be a relationship expert, but I’m here to offer some advice to the Lebron-Lakers pairing that will hopefully improve their morale entering next season.
Get Rid of Unwanted Baggage: Fire Luke Walton
Luke Walton is that weird quirk of your significant other that you disregarded during the courting phase, but suddenly became intolerable once the honeymoon phase ended.
He was hired by the previous management (and before LeBron’s arrival), and had kept his job mostly because of the backing of Lakers owner and president Jeanie Buss. He’s been widely criticized for having faulty and inconsistent rotations, together with a lack of fortitude and decisiveness that’s required from a Head Coach.
Don’t get me wrong: I really do believe Luke Walton is still a good coach. He was doing fairly well in the years prior to this, still carries the 39-4 start with the Warriors in ‘15-’16 on his resume, didn’t sign up for a LeBron James-dictatorship, and has had a roster marred with injuries all year long.
But unfortunately for Luke, he is and will be the scapegoat of this unfortunate Lakers season. And while that may not be fair to him, some sacrifices just have to be made if things are to turn around for this LeBron-Lakers pairing.
Be Willing to Make A Drastic Change: Offer the Farm for Anthony Davis
Here’s where I’ll probably lose a lot of you: I still think that in the 2019 off-season, the Lakers should be willing to offer basically the same deal that they offered the Pelicans last February. To refresh your memory, this was the reported deal:
NOP Receives: Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Ivica Zubac*, Rajon Rondo**, Lance Stephenson**, Michael Beasley*, Two Future First Round Picks
LAL Receives: Anthony Davis, Solomon Hill
*No Longer With Team
**Free Agent in off-season
Assuming this deal is relatively the same in June/July, the Lakers will have to give up half their roster, absorb Solomon Hill’s terrible contract AND potentially sacrifice their long term future. A lot of Lakers stans feel like that’s not worth it.
But here’s why it is: Kevin Durant is leaving Golden State.
Since Durant’s infamous ‘My Next Chapter‘, every single move by the rest of the NBA’s other 29 teams has been in an attempt to chase the Warriors. The moment KD leaves Golden State, the ceiling that a team will need to reach to win a championship goes down significantly.
The list of the top contenders in the NBA will be:
1. The Durant-less Warriors
2. Harden and Paul’s Rockets
3. Giannis’ Bucks
4. Kawhi’s Raptors (or Clippers)
5. Kyrie’s Celtics (assuming he re-signs)
6. Whoever Durant plays for
Now tell me, Where would you rank LeBron and Anthony Davis’ Lakers amongst those teams?
The Lakers would be only team in the NBA that will roster two surefire top six NBA players. Regardless of the supporting cast, I do believe that a LeBron-AD tandem is enough to make them an immediate title contender, and likely top three favorite to win it all.
Of course, the best case scenario for LA is to give up one less pick or young asset, which could be possible if the Celtics don’t make Jayson Tatum available. However, in my opinion, the Lakers should still be willing to give up the farm for Anthony Davis.
Don’t Settle For Band-Aid Solutions: Avoid Picking up B-Level Free Agents
If the Lakers strikeout on Davis or any other potential superstar Free Agents (KD, Kawhi, Kyrie, Klay), then top management may suddenly hit the panic button in an attempt to put out a competitive roster.
A slew of free agents could serve as attractive quick fixes for the Lakers in Year 2 of the LeBron James era. One or a combination of Kemba Walker, Khris Middleton, Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris would be available, and that would infuse more established talent alongside LeBron James.
It would also make for a guaranteed second round exit at best. And the thought of Lakers media convincing themselves that Khris Middleton is going to be the Pau Gasol to LeBron’s Kobe is pretty damn depressing. Let’s just not have that. Please.
The Lakers would be much better of trying to see what another offseason adds in the development of Ingram, Ball and Kuzma, going for AD in 2020 Free Agency, and then looking for a third piece to the puzzle via trade (*cough* Bradley Beal *cough*).
Of course, they won’t need to do that if they luck into my last piece of advice.
Search for A New Spark: Pray for Zion
One of the best ways to rekindle any relationship that finds itself on the fence is to find something new to get excited about, together. This can come in different ways: A hobby, an exciting adventure, or even a child for the married couples.
For LeBron and the Lakers, that new spark would have to come in the form of a 6’8′, 280-pound behemoth named Zion Williamson.
Landing the top pick and potentially adding Zion would open up a ton of new doors for the Lakers. They’d have more flexibility to make the Anthony Davis deal, creating the most athletic Big Three of All-Time. They could also choose to trade the pick in order to surround the LeBron-Davis tandem with more talent. They could even trade the pick for Anthony Davis, keeping their current young core in the process, and pretty much absolving them of all of their current problems.
Obviously, the odds are stacked against the Lakers. If the season ended today, they would only have a 2% chance to land the top pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.
But with both LA and LeBron already turning down the intensity this season, it seems the two are doing their part to improve their chances to draft a shiny new toy. With the effort they’re already giving they’ll just have to hope that the luck will follow.
That’s when we’ll know whether LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers are truly a pairing that’s meant-to-be.
Photos from Getty Images