Are the Lakers Better Without Kawhi?

Did signing Danny Green, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Avery Bradley, and JaVale McGee instead of Kawhi Leonard make the Lakers a better team?

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With their strong start and best record in the NBA, could the Los Angeles Lakers have ended up being a better team by spending their $32 million in cap space on four elite role players rather than on Kawhi Leonard?

The signing of Danny Green, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Avery Bradley, and JaVale McGee gave the Lakers critical depth and versatility they would not have been able to afford had they spent all their money on Kawhi Leonard. More importantly, adding four elite role players to complement rather than take away touches from superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis may have been a big factor in why the Lakers have gotten off to such a fast start.

Through the first fifteen games, the Lakers’ LeBron James and Anthony Davis have posted usage rates of 30.9% and 28.7%, for a combined usage of 59.6%, while the Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard posted a 34.7% usage rate. While LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Kawhi Leonard playing together on the same team is tantalizing, the reality is there just are not enough touches to go around. One of the three superstars would have to sacrifice.

That’s exactly what happened in Miami with the ‘Heatles.’ Superstars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade continued to post their usual 30% usage rates but Chris Bosh was forced to give up touches and sacrifice his game. Over four years, James, Wade, and Bosh had usage rates of 30.7%, 30.8%, and 23.2% in 2010–11; 31.1%, 30.5%, and 23.9% in 2011–12; 29.4%, 28.8%, and 22.5% in 2012–13; and 30.3%, 27.2%, and 22.4% in 2013–14.

The reality is there are not enough touches for a Superstar Big Three. The only reason the Three Amigos worked in Miami was because LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were really the only legitimate superstars on the team. While he was an elite player, Bosh understood he was not a true superstar like James and Wade and realized he would need to give up touches and sacrifice his game for the good of the team to win multiple championships.

There’s no way LeBron James, Anthony Davis, or Kawhi Leonard would or should sacrifice like Chris Bosh. All three of them are top-five, MVP caliber, NBA superstars who want and need to have the ball 30% of the time. Personally, I suspect Kawhi Leonard understood this and wanted to avoid the inevitable potential conflict and controversy of playing with two other alpha superstars like LeBron James and Anthony Davis on the Lakers.

In retrospect, I think that was the right decision for both Kawhi and the Lakers. Without a third superstar to take away valuable touches, LeBron is on his way to winning his fifth MVP award and AD his first DPOY award. The Lakers are off to their best start in a decade with a league best 15–2 record and Danny Green, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Avery Bradley, and JaVale McGee have contributed to a top-five offense and top-seven defense.

With a fifth of the season now in the books, losing the Kawhi Leonard sweepstakes could have been the best thing that happened to the Lakers as it let them to build a deeper, more versatile, and better basketball team. Of course, the sweet irony of the situation is this assumes LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and the Lakers will be able to get by Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and the Clippers to win their seventeenth NBA championship.

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Written by

Lakers fanatic since 1971 when team traded for Wilt Chamberlain. Founder, editor, and publisher of Lakerholics.com, a community for smart informed Lakers fans.

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