Lebron vs. Lakers

King Slayer

For 24 hours, my hatred for the Lakers was renewed. LeBron James left Cleveland and signed with Los Angeles. No matter what your specific list of top 10 professional basketball players entails around half of them have been on the Lakers at some point in their careers1)Imagine you had a time machine allowing you to field a team of the Lakers’ all time greats at their peak powers. Here is what my starting lineup would be: PG-Magic Johnson, SG-Jerry West, SF-Elgin Baylor, PF-LeBron James, C-Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. I am not sure if those are the 5 best individual Lakers, but it is the best team possible if only to have Kobe and Wilt coming off the bench. Both of them would be playing with chips on their shoulders, and we would get to see Wilt get 40 assists and Kobe score 80 points every game.. The rich get richer.

But then DeMarcus Cousins signed with the Warriors. The greatest team in the NBA signed another All-Star, and they got him for the veteran minimum. Next year Golden State will be better than a superteam made out of the best players from the entire Eastern Conference. The NBA is fundamentally broken right now. We might as well award the Larry O’Brien Trophy right now, and Golden State’s dominance shows no signs of letting up.

I have written a lot about the Rockets taking on the Warriors in the past year. The 2018 Western Conference Finals was probably the most important series for my team I had ever watched. I would like to believe Houston can challenge the Warriors again next season, but it no longer appears likely. While Golden State got better by signing Boogie Cousins, the Rockets have already lost Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute. They will be paying a 37 year old Chris Paul a max contract during the ’21-’22 season. And they still have not resigned Clint Capela yet. By the beginning of the season, I will have talked myself into the Rockets being able to beat the Warriors this time around, but right now I know that idea is delusional.

Over the next few years, the only team that has a real shot against the Warriors in the West is the Lakers. Right now they have a weak roster around LeBron, but a lot of their players are still developing. They have good assets to make trades with2)Except Luol Deng’s contract is an anchor around their neck.. LA can probably sign Kawhi Leonard in free agency next year.

But regardless of how the Lakers’ roster shapes up over the next few years, they still have the greatest active player in the league. LeBron carried a group of misfits to the NBA Finals this year. If J.R. Smith did not make a moronic mistake, then perhaps that series would have been different.

LeBron’s narrative has completely flipped since his days in Miami. No longer is he the choker who ran away to get an easy championship. Now LeBron is the hero who has to slay a titan of a basketball team. James has become loved while Kevin Durant has become a persona non grata. After these playoffs, the discussion around LeBron has changed. For the first time, the general consensus of Michael Jordan being the greatest basketball player ever is being challenged.

For any non-Heat fan, the most annoying moment of LeBron’s time in Miami came when he promised multiple championships, “Not two. Not three. Not four. Not five. Not six. Not seven.” LeBron did not live up to that promise, but the funny thing is the King learned multiple championships are not necessary. He returned home, broke Cleveland’s championship drought, and earned a title more important than any other he could have won in Miami . Sometimes one is enough.

LeBron finds himself in a similar situation now in Los Angeles. He does not need to win 4 titles for the Lakers. All he needs is to steal a single title from this Warriors juggernaut, and LeBron will cement his legacy as the GOAT. The stakes have changed. And we will all be witnesses.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Imagine you had a time machine allowing you to field a team of the Lakers’ all time greats at their peak powers. Here is what my starting lineup would be: PG-Magic Johnson, SG-Jerry West, SF-Elgin Baylor, PF-LeBron James, C-Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. I am not sure if those are the 5 best individual Lakers, but it is the best team possible if only to have Kobe and Wilt coming off the bench. Both of them would be playing with chips on their shoulders, and we would get to see Wilt get 40 assists and Kobe score 80 points every game.
2. Except Luol Deng’s contract is an anchor around their neck.

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