LeBron James‘ teams are always a point of national conversation. So are the Los Angeles Lakers. So, of course, LeBron’s LA Lakers and the roster he’s put together would draw plenty of discussion. But a James-Lakers team that’s struggling? That’s fodder for those in NBA circles, Charles Barkley included.
Chuck doesn’t sugarcoat anything. And his opinion on the Lake Show right now is that they’re simply not very good.
What he sees from the team right now makes him question not if the Lakers can compete for a championship but whether they are even legitimate playoff contenders.
The Lakers are still struggling to win games
The Round Mound of Rebound has some merit to his argument.
LeBron and Co. are 13-12 through 25 games, a far cry from the expectations LA had going into the season. But perhaps “LeBron and Co.” isn’t a fair assessment. James has only played 13 of the Lakers’ 25 games.
That certainly throws a wrench in the team’s best-laid plans. But it’s also fair to say that James helped put this Los Angeles Lakers roster together. And it’s simply not been successful on the court.
The start of the season was rough, but assumedly, things would eventually get better, right? Eh. At least not yet.
Behind Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook, LA is fourth in the league in scoring at 115.4 points per game. But the Lakers average 15.8 turnovers a night (28th), are 20th in opponent points off turnovers, 24th in opponent second-chance points, 26th in fast-break points allowed, and 29th in points in the paint.
Turnovers and rebounding issues have plagued the team all season, and they still are.
Outside of James, who again has missed almost half the season, Davis and Westbrook are the only consistent starters. Head coach Frank Vogel has been forced to cycle through lineups, and to this point, he hasn’t found what he’s been looking for.
The Lakers currently sit sixth in the Western Conference Standings. So is Chuck right?
Charles Barkley believes LA is barely a contender in the Western Conference
For much of the season, Barkley hasn’t been a believer in Davis, Westbrook, or the Lakers. He’s said on multiple occasions that Davis needs to step up and carry the team with LeBron out.
The Los Angeles Lakers will be in the play-ins. They gon be in the play-ins.Charles Barkley on the Los Angeles Lakers
That was met by an “Aw jeez,” by Shaquille O’Neal and a surprised “OK Chuckster” from Ernie Johnson.
Sure, on the surface, it is a surprising statement. But the play-in tournament consists of teams 7-10 in the standings. LA is sixth.
It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Chuck is on to something.
A shakeup may be necessary for LeBron and Co. to find their footing
The Lakers may need to alter an aging roster by the trade deadline to inject some energy into what often feels like a lifeless team, especially without LBJ.
A look at the current Western Conference standings has the 21-4 Golden State Warriors at the top, followed by the 20-4 Suns. The Utah Jazz are third at 17-7.
Barring a huge run, the Lakers will finish behind those three.
Then come the Memphis Grizzlies (14-11), LA Clippers (14-12), Lakers, Dallas Mavericks (12-12), Denver Nuggets (12-12), Minnesota Timberwolves (11-14), and the Sacramento Kings round out the top 10 at 11-14.
The Grizzlies look like a legitimate contender for the top half of the West, especially when Ja Morant returns. Paul George is an MVP candidate helping lead the Clippers in Kawhi Leonard’s absence.
Dallas has the always-dangerous Luka Doncic and an improved and healthy (for now) Kristaps Porzingis. The Nuggets have Nikola Jokic, who would be running away with the MVP if not for Stephen Curry.
It’s not a given the Lakers finish inside the top six. So Chuck might be right.
But only time — and the amount of it LeBron spends on the floor — will tell.
All statistics courtesy of NBA.com.