There is no doubt that 18-time All-Star LeBron James is one of the greatest basketball players of all time. Averaging 30.3 points per game, he is currently the NBA’s leading scorer, with Giannis Antetokounmpo following closely behind.
Along with averaging 8.2 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game, the four-time MVP is shooting 52.4% from the field. So, what’s the problem? How come the Lakers are unable to maintain a playoff spot in the Western Conference standings?
How did this all happen?
LeBron James, the player, is a fantastic asset for any basketball team. LeBron James, the general manager? Not really. Let’s wind the clocks back eight months. On Aug. 6, 2021, the Washington Wizards agreed to trade Russell Westbrook, a 2023 second-round draft pick, a 2024 second-round draft pick and a 2028 second-round draft pick to the Los Angeles Lakers.
In return, the Lakers shopped Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell and Kyle Kuzma to the Wizards. At the time, some NBA analysts were humdrum about this trade, whereas several fans across the nation were applauding this move. For the disappointed fans — who saw right through the blind homerism and hype — this moment right now has to be satisfying for all the naysayers. Westbrook is a great player, but he’s not a great team player.
Some would argue that he cares more about his stats than ever winning a single championship. Needless to say, players have different interests and priorities. Some care the most about winning, while others care more about their salaries and individual accomplishments. Putting aside the aforementioned observation, at this point during the season, we should all hopefully be able to admit that the Westbrook trade was a bust.
The Washington Wizards have agreed to trade Russell Westbrook, 2024 second-round pick, 2028 second-round pick to the Los Angeles Lakers for Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell and No. 22 tonight, sources tell @TheAthletic @Stadium.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) July 30, 2021
But, what does this have to do with LeBron James? Well, one could argue that both James and Anthony Davis wanted the triple-double king last offseason. Per one credible source, the Lakers’ front office planned to pursue Buddy Hield months ago, and the guard was then traded from the Kings to the Pacers before this season’s trade deadline.
Fans and analysts alike can throw out all kinds of names: Buddy Hield, Damian Lillard, Ben Simmons, James Harden, etc. It makes one wonder if any of these four said players would have been a better fit for the Lakers than Westbrook. This falls back on general management, which James is definitely influencing.
Furthermore, Anthony Davis is struggling to remain healthy. His younger self could easily dominate the paint, and he was more than capable of protecting the rim. Nowadays, Lakers’ fans squirm almost every time they see Davis dribble the ball down the free throw lane against aggressive competitors. They fear he might get injured again.
Anthony Davis implies his groin injury was the reason the Suns beat the Lakers in the playoffs last season:
— Legion Hoops (@LegionHoops) March 14, 2022
In Game 4 of the first round of the NBA Playoffs last season, the Suns defeated the Lakers in Los Angeles after the veteran suffered a groin injury. Folks know the Lakers could have taken the Suns to a potential Game 7 had Davis never sustained that injury. Either way, the series ending the way it did was anticlimactic.
Then came this season. On Feb. 17, the Lakers revealed that Davis suffered a mid-foot sprain. The big man has quite a history of overcoming injuries. In his rookie season, he sustained a sprained MCL and bone bruise in his left knee. The 29-year-old, although can still play at a high level, is not getting any younger. His athleticism has taken a hit.
Who shoulders the blame?
LeBron James handpicked more than a couple of stars on general manager Rob Pelinka’s roster. One questionable decision led to another. The Buss Family are equally at fault for allowing these events to unfold. There was a time when Davis helped the Lakers win their 17th NBA title in the 2020 NBA Finals. On the flip side, that was then. This is now. Front offices are aware of injury-prone stars.
Having said all of this, make no mistake, everyone in the Lakers organization has blood on their hands. If the team misses the playoffs again, it’s not all on James’ shoulders. For a personal opinion, LeBron James needs to stick to playing, not coaching or managing the team. Bad personnel decisions should rest on coaches, managers and owners. All things considered, is King James hurting the Lakers? It’s a yes for G.M. LeBron James.