Boom! Wow! It’s no longer just an idea. It’s no longer a rumor. It’s happened. LeBron James is a Los Angeles Laker, meaning by far the most popular American athlete is playing for one of the biggest franchises in sports. The ratings will be through the roof. LaVar Ball just got more interesting. Ironically, all the Lakers fans who criticized LeBron for years in an effort to argue Kobe Bryant as superior will now be cheering for the four-time league MVP. Ignoring all that for a second, let’s look at what it will be like on the court. Assuming there are no other big moves, let’s dive into the potential starters who will be playing alongside James, and how they will impact each other.
Point Guard: Lonzo Ball
LeBron has always been the primary ball handler for his team. He’s never played with a guard like Lonzo Ball, though. Entering the draft just a year ago, Ball was thought of the best passer coming into the league since Magic Johnson. He is a magician with the basketball. LeBron is “the guy” of course, but it will be interesting to see how much he and Ball share ball-handling responsibilities, unless his jump shot improves, Ball will be the guy teams double off of to help on LeBron.
Lonzo shot an abysmal 30% from three this past season. However, he was an excellent three-point shooter in his lone year at UCLA. Lonzo isn’t the only Laker to have a poor shooting season as a rookie. Brandon Ingram did as well, but he improved tremendously during his second season. Could a similar improvement be in store for Lonzo?
Shooting Guard: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
LeBron and KCP (Kentavious Caldwell Pope) have a good relationship, as they share the same agent, Rich Paul. James will also like him on the court because of his solid defense and good shooting. Caldwell-Pope shot 38% from 3 on over five attempts per game last season; therefore LeBron will get a good amount of assists from the former Piston.
Power Forward: Brandon Ingram or Kyle Kuzma
In his rookie season, Brandon Ingram averaged nine points per game on just 40% shooting from the field and 29% from 3. In his second year, however, Ingram’s game took off, averaging 16 points per game while shooting 47% from the floor and 39% from deep. Will his stats improve even more this upcoming season? Due to his natural development as a player, and LeBron getting him easier shots, it’s not crazy to believe Ingram could average 20 points per game next season as James’ second option.
Ingram and Kyle Kuzma averaged the same points per game this past season, but Ingram has more potential which gives a reason for the Lakers to start the Duke product. However, if LeBron wants to play SF, the Lakers may have Kuzma start at the four because he’s significantly bigger than Ingram and would do a better job at defending his position. Regardless of who’s starting next to LeBron, the other would be a perfect 6th man off the bench.
Center: Brook Lopez
This one is tricky. The two bigs from last year’s team – Brook Lopez and Julius Randle – are both free agents. Lopez and the Lakers have had a mutual interest in a return. Randle averaged 18 points per game and nine rebounds in just 30 minutes per game while shooting 56% from the field. The 23-year-old will command a big contract from somebody, and if the Lakers were to match it than they would no longer have the cap room to pair James with another star. For that reason, I can’t see Julius Randle being a Laker this upcoming season.
How will this team fare next season? I wouldn’t say they are title contenders. As is, they aren’t a threat to the Warriors. Just ask the Cavaliers, LeBron being the best player on the planet doesn’t mean you can win a series (or even a game) against the Warriors. I also would say they aren’t better than this year’s 65-win Rockets, who were on the verge of eliminating the Warriors before Chris Paul’s Achilles snapped.
So if the Lakers aren’t better than the West’s top two teams, where do they rank amongst the other teams in the conference? The West was absolutely stacked this past season. Just three games separated the #3 seed from the #9 seed, we should expect this Laker team to be a playoff team falling somewhere in that range.
The chance that LeBron is reading this article is 0.1%, but if you are LeBron, I want to give you an idea of how tough the Western Conference will be. There’s a handful of teams who hovered around 50 wins last season, and I have reasons to think that they will all be better.
Oklahoma City Thunder – 48 wins this past season: Andre Roberson returning, another season for Russell Westbrook and Paul George to figure out chemistry.
Utah Jazz – 48 wins this past season: Rudy Gobert missed 26 games, Donovan Mitchell could grow after his great rookie campaign.
New Orleans Pelicans – 48 wins this past season: DeMarcus Cousins returning (assuming they keep him in free agency). Just think about the two best bigs in basketball being together for an entire season?
Minnesota Timberwolves – 47 wins this past season: Jimmy Butler missed 23 games. That’s pretty much all you need to know.
San Antonio Spurs – 47 wins this past season: The Spurs winning 47 games in the tough Western Conference without their top player in Kawhi Leonard is very impressive. It’s unlikely, but if they decide not to trade him, then their win total will only skyrocket.
Denver Nuggets – 46 wins this past season: Their big free agent signing Paul Milsap missed over half the season in 2017-18. With him healthy, their win total should increase.