Aside from his first couple of seasons in the NBA, LeBron James has always been a part of a title contender. Yet the 2021-22 Los Angeles Lakers are doing everything they can to disrupt the King’s impressive streak.
From an individual standpoint, James has been superb. His team, however, has not been. The Lakers are a dismal 26-29 and in loose control of the West’s ninth seed. Considering LA entered the year as one of the top title contenders, calling this season disappointing would be a massive understatement.
In a superstar-driven league, no player has more say in team personnel than LeBron. As we’ve seen this season, that’s sometimes not a good thing. But as the trade deadline nears, James has done little to convince outsiders he’s not planning out who stays with the Purple and Gold and who goes.
LeBron James refused to answer whether he’s in talks with the Lakers front office
If you would have predicted an MVP-level stat line from LeBron James and the Lakers to be a play-in team, people would have given you some funny looks. But even with the 37-year-old James averaging 29.0 points, his highest total since 2009-10, LA would have to survive a pair of single-elimination games just to make the playoffs.
LeBron has missed 17 games, so it’s not as if he’s blameless in all of this. Yet it’s clear that LA’s revamped roster is nowhere close to contending as currently constructed.
Following Monday’s practice, the four-time MVP admitted he’s always open to improving a team, especially around deadline season.
“I don’t really like to play fantasy basketball,” James told The Athletic. “So this is the group that we have going into the deadline and we’ll be ready to take on all challenges that this season has given us. If there’s an opportunity — I’ve said this every year — if there’s an opportunity for you to get better, then you explore those options. That’s always been [my stance].
“I’ve been like that my whole career. I’ve said it over and over. If you have an opportunity to get better, no one turns that down.”
Soon after, one media member asked the King if general manager Rob Pelinka has consulted him for any trade deadline conversations.
“You got to ask Rob that question,” James said.
LeBron is sticking his head into the roster ahead of the trade deadline
Over the years, LeBron has been referred to as “LBJ”, “King James”, “The Akron Hammer”, and a few other monikers. But every summer and trade deadline, “LeGM” makes an appearance.
The 37-year-old has often played a major role in his team’s roster decisions, particularly during his second stint in Cleveland and now with LA. Just look at the 2019 Anthony Davis trade and last year’s Russell Westbrook trade, both of which were heavily influenced by James. Now, with the Westbrook deal backfiring to epic proportions, LeBron is trying to salvage what’s looking more and more like a lost season.
Even if LeBron won’t admit he is meddling, there’s enough reputable info saying otherwise. According to ESPN‘s Dave McMenamin, James and Pelinka are collaborating ahead of Thursday’s deadline and figuring out ways to improve. McMenamin also confirmed the King’s steady involvement with all of the offseason moves, many of which were failures.
James’ window to win a fifth title is rapidly closing. But as the last year has shown, his roster input is ultimately causing more harm than good. While no one is saying LA shouldn’t try to improve its roster, perhaps LeGM should leave that to the actual GM this time.
The Lakers don’t have many options to improve at the deadline
What do you get when you combine two superstars, an overpaid star, a roster filled with valueless veterans, and no cap space? You’d have the 2021-22 Los Angeles Lakers.
Even if LeBron and the Lakers want to improve, there are only so many ways for them to do so. Westbrook is as lukewarm of a trade commodity as it gets, and that’s before factoring in the $44 million and $47 million he’s owed this season and next. While dealing him would fix most of LA’s issues, it’s just not a realistic option.
Talen Horton-Tucker and Kendrick Nunn are the two players the Lakers can essentially dangle in any perspective trade. But THT’s down year has sunk his high value, while Nunn has yet to suit up this season and will be out with a bone bruise until March at the earliest.
The only recently-acquired players with much value at the moment are Malik Monk and Carmelo Anthony. But trading either would be a clear sign LA has given up on the season. And with each playing on a minimum salary, the Purple and Gold need all the cheap help they can get.
James has been able to transform the roster as he pleases during his entire time in LA. But it’s hard seeing a way he’s able to fix his offseason mistakes.