Why next-man-up fails with LeBron!
The Los Angeles Lakers have built a roster overly dependent on LeBron James but the time has now come to make changes to correct that
LeBron James is the ultimate player maker, the irreplaceable multiplier whose presence on the court makes each of his teammates better versions of themselves just because of the way he plays and enhances their games.
Take him away and the Lakers automatically become a different team. Even a generational superstar like Anthony Davis loses that special dimension and unique edge to his game he has when playing alongside LeBron James. That’s why any next-man-up strategy is doomed to fail when LeBron’s not playing. The Lakers can still win games but they lose more than LeBron’s points, rebounds, and assists. They lose the LeBron James multiplier effect.
Because of limited cap space and the decision to wait for Kawhi, the Lakers specifically built a roster designed to complement LeBron James but that lacked a second elite playmaker or third high powered scorer besides AD. While that roster has been terrific when both James and Davis are healthy and playing, it’s become painfully obvious the team has serious issues with the quality of playmaking and scoring without both of their superstars.
Watching the Lakers get blown out by the Nuggets without LeBron, it was easy to see how much different the team is without the King. Even with Anthony Davis, the Lakers are a completely different team without LeBron. With LeBron limited by back and groin injuries against the Pacers and Bucks and sitting out against the Nuggets, the Lakers suffered their first losing streak and a reality check of life without a healthy LeBron James.
With the Christmas Day showdown with the Clippers looming, the Lakers suddenly find themselves mired in a three game losing streak with both LeBron James and Anthony Davis dinged up with multiple minor injuries. While LeBron James will hopefully be able to play against the Clippers, Anthony Davis suffered a hyper extended knee during the Nuggets game to go with the sprained ankle that kept him out of the Pacers game.
While the Lakers are hoping both superstars will be available for the Christmas Day game with the Clippers, both could possibly be limited due to their litany of minor injuries. It’s also possible one or both may not play. While the Lakers have been disdainful of the load management practices of the Clippers, they might be wise to embrace load management to keep LeBron James and Anthony Davis healthy and fresh for the playoffs.
Continuing to play LeBron with a bad groin or Anthony with a bum knee is a risk the Lakers might be smart to avoid at this point in the season. While it’s admirable both superstars want to play every game, it might be foolish. While neither James and Davis have suffered major career threatening injuries like Leonard and George, there’s really no reason for the Lakers to take unnecessary risks that could potentially result in more serious injuries.
Besides embracing load management, the Lakers should look to trade for one or two star level players to help replace the high powered scoring and playmaking their LeBron dependent roster misses when he doesn’t play. While it won’t be easy considering the Lakers lack of quality trading chips, Rob Pelinka might return to the two trading partners he worked with to land Anthony Davis: the New Orleans Pelicans and Washington Wizards.
The Pelicans are shopping 29-year old point guard Jrue Holiday who no longer fits the timeline of Zion and their young roster while the Wizards are looking to move 27-year old free-agent-to-be sharp shooter Davis Bertans. Holiday would give the Lakers an All-Star level scorer and playmaker to complement LeBron and take over when he sits while Bertans would give them instant offense from an elite prolific 3-point shooter off the bench.
The Lakers could offer the Pelicans a pair of budding young stars in Kyle Kuzma, whom New Orleans wanted in the Anthony Davis trade, plus Talen Horton-Tucker, a 19-year old prodigy who’s been tearing up the G-League. To match salaries, the Lakers would include Danny Green, whom the Pelicans could flip to a third team for a first round pick, and Avery Bradley, a potential All-Defensive guard, both of whom are on 2-year contracts.
Were the Lakers unable to interest the Pelicans in trading for Holiday, they could offer Kuzma and Horton-Tucker to the Wizards, who were very happy to land Moritz Wagner and Isaac Bonga in the AD trade, for Davis Bertans. While Bertans will be an unrestricted free agent this summer and will likely demand double the $7 million from this year, the Lakers would receive his Bird Rights in the trade so could pay whatever they need to re-sign him.
Other potential trade targets the Lakers could pursue include the Kings’ sharp shooter Bojan Bogdanovic and the Timberwolves talented wing defender and 3-point shooter Robert Covington, who are also available. The Lakers shouldn’t panic and make a bad deal but they also can’t afford to stand pat with only two guaranteed years left on LeBron’s contract and AD’s free agency this summer looming. It’s time to go all in to win now.