With only a few weeks left in the NBA regular season, the Los Angeles Lakers are in panic mode. After signing LeBron James to a four year deal in the offseason, expectations for one of the league’s most high profile franchises were high. The Lakers added an all-time great player after one of the worst five year stretches for a franchise in league history. Despite showing flashes of progress, however, the Lakers have largely struggled and now find themselves on the outside of the playoff picture looking in.
What led to this seemingly can’t-miss team underperforming? Here are the five biggest problems for the Los Angeles Lakers.
5. Their Free Agent Signings Haven’t Panned Out
When they signed LeBron in the summer of 2018, the Lakers made their plan clear: they wanted to sign him followed by at least one additional high profile free agent the following summer. To maintain financial flexibility, they added several notable veterans for one-year deals. This included Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, and Michael Beasley.
Those signings were seen as questionable at best before the 2018-19 season. Now that a significant portion of the season has played out, it’s clear they have not panned out for L.A. in a way that will help lead them to the playoffs.
4. They Didn’t Acquire Anthony Davis at the Trade Deadline
When Anthony Davis requested a trade in February, multiple teams around the league hastened to make their best offer. According to rumors swirling around the league, Davis listed L.A. as his preferred destination. The Lakers then engaged in trade talks with the New Orleans Pelicans. After several days of back and forth negotiations, neither side agreed on a deal.
In today’s NBA, winning means having multiple superstars. Look at successful franchises such as Golden State, Houston, Oklahoma City, and Boston. One premium player isn’t enough. When the Los Angeles Lakers didn’t pull off the trade for Davis, they almost certainly guaranteed themselves as non-contenders for the 2019 NBA Finals.
3. They Dangled Half the Team as Trade Bait
When the Lakers failed to acquire Davis, it was detrimental to the team in more ways than one. Consider the collateral damage caused by offering a significant portion of their young base for Davis. While everyone has said the right things about the NBA being a business and maintaining professionalism, it’s hard to imagine the young players (Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Kyle Kuzma) the franchise had previously invested a lot of time in weren’t shocked and possibly hurt by the ease with which they could have been dealt.
2. LeBron James Has Been Injured
The Los Angeles Lakers knew the Western Conference would be tough sledding even at full strength. It’s been even harder without their leader.
LeBron James strained his groin on Christmas and missed significant time in January and February. By the time he returned to the lineup, it was too little, too late — there were only 30 games left to play. Short of a miracle, a James-led team may miss the playoffs for the first time since 2004-05.
1. LeBron James is Not Giving Maximum Effort on Defense
There is no question that James is among the greatest to ever play the game. His career is legendary by any metric. Despite all this, there have been times this season at which some fans and members of the media have questioned his intensity on the defensive end of the floor. The claims would have less credibility if video evidence didn’t exist.
No one can question James’s drive or will to succeed. With the deck stacked firmly against the Los Angeles Lakers this season, however, he may not have the energy left to lead another one of his miracle runs.