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Berry: LeBron isn’t enough for the Lakers

| Wednesday, October 10, 2018

The infamous J.R. Smith game-1 debacle and the Warriors’ eventual sweep of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2018 NBA Finals all but assured that there would be The Decision: Part II within the coming weeks. The Lakers won the sweepstakes the second time around, but unlike the promises of championships that came when he teamed up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, LeBron James’ journey to the West Coast doesn’t have any guarantee of immediate success. Fans should adjust their expectations accordingly.

Prophecies of King James coming to the City of Angels have far exceeded the controversial comments and expectations LaVar Ball has made since his oldest son, Lonzo, entered the league. The hype is unrealistic and unnecessary. Before James even suited up for his first game with the Lakers, many were calling him the greatest to play for the franchise. What about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar? Magic Johnson? Kobe Bryant?

Did fans get serious amnesia overnight?

The comment itself was very insulting to both Bryant and Johnson, who spent their entire careers with the franchise and each won the purple and gold five titles.

James is arguably the greatest player in the league right now, but the Lakers aren’t exactly on the same level as Pat Riley’s Showtime Lakers or Phil Jackson’s 2001-2003 Lakers that dominated the West Coast, or even Jackson’s ’09 and ’10 Lakers that snuck away with two back-to-back titles. James does have experience dominating a conference given his reign over the East, but the West Coast is and has been a stronger conference for years. The Lakers squad that finished 11th in the West last year are young and inexperienced both talent and coaching-wise, and they need more than an offseason of acquisitions to make themselves a threat in the West Coast against Steph Curry’s Golden State Warriors or James Harden’s Houston Rockets. Lebron’s attempt for nine-consecutive finals appearances is in great danger. But the team isn’t completely hopeless.

Solely examining the small sample size of three preseason games where the Lakers have gone 1-3, they still have the potential to be a threat. The young core of Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma has managed to show overall improvement in moving the franchise in the right direction since the Lakers posted a franchise-worst record of 17-65 in 2015-2016. Collectively, the trio totaled over 40 percent of the Lakers’ points last season, giving James a lot of offensive production to work with. The young trio does have some veteran leadership in JaVale McGee, Lance Stephenson and Rajon Rondo to add depth to the roster, but the veteran signings outside of James are subpar. Javale McGee isn’t going to emulate anything close to Shaquille O’Neal or Pau Gasol in production. Lance Stephenson is a poor man’s Ron Artest — or Metta World Peace, whichever you prefer to call him. If Rondo can manage to play like the triple-double playoff Rondo that helped lead the Celtics to an NBA title 10 years ago, then he could be a suitable backup to Ball, who is still recovering from post-season knee surgery. As history has told us time and time again, LeBron can’t anchor a team to a title without adequate help.

The Lakers hype needs to calm down because it doesn’t appear this Lakers team is ready to win an NBA Championship this season or even the next season. But contrary to previous years, the Lakers do have a strong chance of making the playoffs, a feat they haven’t achieved since 2013. A playoff appearance is a step in the right direction for one of the best franchises in league history. As seasons pass, the Lakers could find themselves in the finals again, but as of now, LeBron simply just isn’t enough to turn the franchise around overnight.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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