During Tuesday’s 128-110 loss to the Dallas Mavericks, all LeBron James could do was watch. Watch as his Los Angeles Lakers — a team with high championship expectations — dropped to a dismal 31-44. Watch as the Purple and Gold fell to the 11-seed, placing them outside of the playoff picture for the first time all season.
While there were healthy preseason debates about the strength of LA’s older roster, no one saw the Lakers sitting 13 games under .500 with seven contests to go. Especially not LeBron, whose blustering confidence last summer looks even more foolish than it did at the time.
LeBron James tweeted and deleted an impassioned defense of the Lakers
Following a disappointing first-round exit in 2021, the Lakers more or less changed everything about their roster that wasn’t LeBron or Anthony Davis.
LA’s big move was acquiring Russell Westbrook in the hopes he’d serve as the much-coveted third superstar. Beyond him, the Lakers signed former All-Stars Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, and DeAndre Jordan to veteran minimum deals. They also acquired Malik Monk, Kendrick Nunn, Wayne Ellington, Kent Bazemore, and Trevor Ariza, among others.
The new-look Lakers boasted many recognizable names. But questions persisted about their age and their fits alongside James and Davis, particularly when it came to Westbrook.
Days after bringing Russ on board, LeBron took to Twitter to send a message to the haters. His since-deleted tweet read as follows:
Keep talking about my squad, our personnel ages, the way he plays, he says injured, we’re past our time in this league, etc etc etc. Do me one favor PLEASE!!!! And I mean PLEASE!!! Keep that same narrative ENERGY when it begins! That’s all I ask. #ThankYou *crown emoji*LeBron James
Even with the ample supply of skeptics, many still saw the Lakers as title contenders. LA had the second-highest championship odds during the preseason, trailing only the Brooklyn Nets.
LeBron’s tweet has aged as poorly as the Lakers have
In year 19, LeBron James has defied father time. The 37-year-old is averaging a league-leading 30.1 points per game, placing him on track to become the oldest winner of the scoring title in NBA history.
It’s just too bad the Lakers couldn’t follow in his lead.
As it turns out, building a makeshift roster of old guys isn’t the recipe for championship glory. Besides James (and Carmelo, to an extent), none of the Lakers’ 30-somethings haven’t panned out. Some (Bazemore) exited the starting lineup early on while others (Jordan) aren’t even on the team anymore.
Injuries have snake-bit the Purple and Gold, even the once-invincible LeBron. The four-time champ has missed 20 games this year and will miss at least one more due to a rolled ankle. Meanwhile, the oft-injured AD has only played in 37 of LA’s 75 contests, just under half. In total, just three Lakers (Westbrook, Monk, Anthony) have played in 60+ games.
Then there’s Westbrook. The 2016-17 MVP has gone from franchise star to $44.2 million albatross ever since suiting up for his hometown team. Between turnovers, missed shots, and a defiant attitude, the Russ experiment is easily the Lakers’ biggest failure of the offseason and LeBron’s greatest miscalculation.
So nearly eight months after James called out haters for criticizing LA’s age, durability, and overall ability, the Lakers have decisively proven the nay-sayers right. And although he’s done everything he can to keep this squad afloat, the King’s historic 19th season will ultimately be categorized as a failure.
The Lakers can’t allow LeBron to have a major say in personnel decisions
Part of the reason LeBron felt so strongly about this year’s roster is that he’s the one who put it together. Well, not officially. But the future Hall of Famer certainly played a significant role in influencing GM Rob Pelinka’s decision-making.
James, along with Davis, convinced Pelinka to acquire Westbrook. He pushed for a veteran-heavy roster, similar to the ones he had during his previous tenures with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat. Yet unlike those Finals-bound clubs, this group will be incredibly fortunate just to sneak into the play-in round.
Moving forward, the Lakers cannot allow a 37-year-old LeBron to possess as much roster control as he does now. While LA wants to capitalize on his time in Hollywood, there’s the looming possibility that James moves on in a year or two. If that’s the case, then the Lakers are really stuck in no man’s land.
It’s hard to imagine next year being any worse than this one for LeBron, the Lakers, and their passionate fan base. Though the first step to ensuring that is by limiting the King’s grasp over this proud franchise.
The second step might involve taking his phone away.