LeBron James and the Lakers Are All In for a Wide-Open 2019-20

The Toronto Raptors, lower than 48 hours faraway from profitable their first N.B.A. championship, had been nonetheless partying in Las Vegas on Saturday when LeBron James, in his personal incomparable method, broadcast his gravitational pull on the remainder of the league.

On Instagram, James took a break from posting pictures of his youngsters and his agent and his baggage to share a new one: an illustrated portrait of himself standing subsequent to Anthony Davis, his soon-to-be teammate, each of them sporting Lakers uniforms.

“Just the beginning,” James wrote in the caption.

The starting of a big experiment. The starting of an unlimited gamble. The starting of frenzied hypothesis about subsequent season, even earlier than the embers had cooled on the final one.

The deal is vaguely reminiscent of the 2013 trade between the Nets and the Celtics, in which the Nets gave up a boatload of future assets, including three first-round picks, for Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and a couple of other pieces. Garnett and Pierce were aging stars who helped nudge the Nets into the Eastern Conference semifinals in 2014.

But it was otherwise a colossal disaster for the Nets, and one of the most mocked trades in league history. Absent draft picks and the ability to build around youth, the Nets had the payroll of a contender while enduring four straight losing seasons — a run of futility that didn’t end until this season thanks to the patient craftsmanship of General Manager Sean Marks and Coach Kenny Atkinson.

The Lakers, though, could not afford to be patient, and everyone knew it, including the Pelicans, a team swimming in leverage. James exerted a unique pressure on the Lakers to win now, to trade for another top-shelf star, no matter the long-term costs. And those costs could be significant. Are they worth it? That depends.

Unlike Pierce and Garnett, who were in decline when they joined the Nets, Davis is an ascendant star at 26. He will presumably be one of the faces — and then the face — of the Lakers for years to come. But the Lakers will be leaning on free agency to round out their roster well into the next decade, a perilous strategy.

As for the James-Davis pairing, the championship dream hinges in large part on whether James can maintain his ultrahigh level of play. He has spent the later part of his career defying the corrosive effects of playing in so many games over so many long seasons. He will enter next season, his 17th, as the league’s active leader in minutes played. Consider that this past season, just five players from his draft class were active — including Dwyane Wade, who just retired, and Carmelo Anthony, who might as well.

It is easy to forget that James is not a young man by N.B.A. standards — or at least it was easy to forget until he tore a muscle in his groin on Christmas Day. It was the first major injury of his career. He wound up missing a huge chunk of the second half of the season and watched the playoffs from home for the first time since 2005.

When healthy, though, James was doing LeBron-type things, averaging 27.4 points, 8.5 rebounds and 8.3 assists in 55 games. With the Pelicans, Davis averaged 25.9 points, 12 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in 56 games. To state the obvious: They could be a fearsome duo.

But the Lakers also desperately need depth, shooting, a point guard and continued development from Kyle Kuzma, the one promising player they managed to retain. They also need James to keep his limbs intact. The team would perhaps be wise to adopt the “load management” strategy that the Raptors used this season to preserve Leonard for the playoffs.

That would be asking the Lakers to exercise prudence, though, something the team has steadfastly avoided not just in recent seasons, but going back decades.

For a team that has always seemed bent on big moves at any price, it might be a nice change of pace.

Source link Nytimes.com

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