Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka will get one and only one shot this summer to convince LeBron James to join the Lakers. They’d be smart to focus on how playing with Lonzo could extend LeBron’s career and championship legacy.
The Rockets might have more talent and the 76ers an easier path to the Finals but the Lakers have Lonzo Ball, Luke Walton, a fun style of play, the most cap space, and a talented deep young core perfect for a now 33-year old superstar who wants to play as long and win as many rings as possible. The pitch Magic Johnson needs to sell to LeBron is he’ll be able to play more years, have more fun, and win more rings playing with Lonzo, for Luke, on the deeper Lakers.
As impressive as LeBron has been in these playoffs, it’s easy to see the wear and tear of the pressure and workload he has to carry isn’t conducive to the continued health and proficiency of a superstar with his years and miles. But LeBron needs more than help. He needs a team where he can lead but not have to carry the load, where he doesn’t have to play the most minutes in the league at 33, where he can share the ball handling and play making duties.
As free agency approaches, LeBron needs to seriously consider looking for a team where he not only can win a championship but also reduce his minutes and play more off the ball to save his 33-year old body and extend his career. The last thing LeBron needs right at this point is to sign with a team where he has to carry the weight of the entire organization on his shoulders, where his superhuman efforts could lead to a career-ending injury like Kobe Bryant.
That’s why rumors that LeBron’s planning on talking with the Warriors and Celtics in free agency shouldn’t be a surprise. LeBron realizes the criteria for his next championship team might need to change to optimize his career. Joining a team with continuity and an established identity for sharing the ball and playing the game selflessly like Kevin Durant did with the Warriors may have become a lot more attractive to LeBron after his struggles these playoffs.
While neither the Warriors or Celtics have viable paths to acquiring LeBron, the Lakers find themselves perfectly positioned to be the King’s next team. Giving up the basketball to a transcendent playmaker and pace setter like Lonzo and integrating his elite play and shot making abilities into the Lakers’ fun and exciting pace-and-space offense could be key to preserving LeBron. Playing with Lonzo could conceivably enable LeBron to play until he is 40.
The Lakers run one of the fastest, most exciting pace-and-space offenses in the league. Adding LeBron James would potentially elevate their transition game to Showtime level. If there is one thing LeBron James thrives on, it’s attacking the basket downhill in transition. LeBron dunking off passes from Lonzo will become the modern version of Magic Johnson to James Worthy. Playing with Lonzo means easy baskets and less wear and tear on LeBron.
Would the Lakers with LeBron and Paul George be championship worthy? They might not have the immediate firepower of the Rockets or 76ers with LeBron but they might be the best option long run because of their financial position, talented deep young roster, and incomparable front office. Add LeBron and PG to a roster likely to be seven or eight deep in young talent and the Lakers might be LeBron’s most sustainable championship contender.
Magic Johnson has a vision for a revival of Lakers’ Showtime. He already has the right coach in Luke Walton and point guard in Lonzo Ball. Now he needs to sell LeBron that he’s the right superstar and the Lakers are the right team.
There’s a risk, of course, trying to sell LeBron on giving up the basketball as that may not be something he’s ready to give up yet at this point in his career. While he may be more of a pass-first than shoot-first player, LeBron’s always had the ball in his hands and pitching him to play with Lonzo could backfire. While Magic Johnson has said no Lakers player is untouchable, it’s difficult to envision the Lakers changing course and trading Lonzo Ball to lure LeBron.
Maybe I’m wrong but I don’t believe Magic Johnson and the Lakers are going to suddenly turn into the Cleveland Cavaliers and sacrifice their future for a superstar who could only have two or three prime years left. That’s just not something they have to or would be willing to do in my opinion. The Lakers are perfectly positioned for a fabulous future with Luke, Lonzo, and their young core. Magic’s pitch should be how LeBron can complete that vision.
Rockets’ and 76ers’ fans will point out that LeBron could also easily play off the ball with James Harden, Chris Paul, or Ben Simmons. The big difference between Lonzo Ball and those three players, however, is his low usage rate and willingness to give up the ball in transition and make the hockey pass in half court. James Harden, Chris Paul, and Ben Simmons need the ball in their hands more than Lonzo Ball, whose special talent is keeping the ball moving.
LeBron would be a superstar in any system but playing with Lonzo on the Lakers would enable him to play more full court than half court basketball, which means fewer struggles in half court against defenses stacked to limit his touches or force him to give up the basketball. Playing on the 76ers with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid has to be tempting for LeBron but the style of play and having two ball dominant point forwards isn’t an ideal situation.
The saddest thing to me about this year’s Finals has been watching LeBron struggle mentally to have fun. While a different situation, it reminded me of how Kevin Durant looked when the Thunder were eliminated. While I don’t think LeBron would settle for joining a team that had already won a ring like KD did with the Warriors, I think part of him was envious for Kevin and what he has with the Warriors, where the game looks easier and a lot more fun.
Magic needs to pitch LeBron that coming to the Lakers will not only extend his career and give him a chance to win more rings and create a bigger legacy but also to have fun playing the game of basketball like it should be played.