Can LeBron James and ‘really flawed’ Lakers shake off concerns? NBA insiders weigh in on disappointing start – CBS Sports - Techy Hunters

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Friday, November 5, 2021

Can LeBron James and ‘really flawed’ Lakers shake off concerns? NBA insiders weigh in on disappointing start – CBS Sports

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What, exactly, should we make of the Los Angeles Lakers?

LeBron James is already hurt, out for at least a week with an abdominal strain. Their defense is a shambles. Carmelo Anthony has looked sharp, and reinforcements will arrive as other Lakers recover from various injuries. But the Russell Westbrook addition looks ill-conceived, several NBA league sources have voiced concerns about the team’s overall effort, and there’s a level of mediocrity that’s marked their play. 

After blowing a 19-point lead and losing to the Oklahoma City Thunder for a second time, Los Angeles sits at a pedestrian 5-4.

Around the NBA, opinions from executives, scouts, former players and those who have worked and moved in LeBron’s orbit vary. 

A sampling:

“They’re a shit show.”

“I still trust LeBron to figure it out.”

“LeBron’s gotten old. It’s here. That old LeBron in terms of durability and reliability is either gone, or almost gone.”

“They need to make a big move. You might even have to move Russ. That roster is too flawed.”

“They have LeBron. They’re going to be fine.”

It’s worth remembering how often it has seemed the sky was falling on a LeBron James team. In 2010, his first season in Miami, the much-hyped Heat started 9-8, and many NBA writers at the time — this one included — thought things were dire. That team went on to play in the NBA Finals. In 2014, LeBron’s first year back in Cleveland, the Cavs started 6-7, and were a sub-.500 team in mid-January. They, too, went on to reach the NBA Finals that season. Only one calendar year ago, a LeBron-and-Anthony-Davis-led Lakers team won an NBA championship.

So is that happening again — a mass overreaction to the inevitability of LeBron James making everything fine by the playoffs? Or has he, and the Lakers, hit an inflection point signaling the end of the King’s time atop the NBA’s pecking order?

To get a sense of what the larger NBA community thinks, CBS Sports talked to more than a dozen executives, scouts, former players and those who have worked with LeBron. Here are some of their views. 

Top NBA executive No. 1

“Frankly? They’re not very good. Not by LeBron-and-the-Lakers standards. They’re old. They’re poorly put together as a team. LeBron, as he always did, brought in a bunch of guys he wanted to play with instead of who he should play with. It’s the same story. Rob (Pelinka) didn’t put together that team, LeBron did. And I’m not sure he’s still going to be able to make up for that. Honestly, they’re a shit show.”

Projected Western Conference finish: “Middle of the pack. They’re going to disappoint.”

Projected postseason run: “They’re really flawed, but the West may not be as hard as last year. It’s a tough call. They could go out early again or make the Finals.”

Top NBA executive No. 2

“They’re not as good as we thought they were going to be. And you know what the real issue is? LeBron. Maybe he’s going to be like Tom Brady, but I don’t think so. I think we’re seeing it now. LeBron’s gotten old. It’s here. That old LeBron in terms of durability and reliability is either gone, or almost gone. There’s no way he’s going to be able to carry this team in the regular season, and they need that. They’re not great. And I don’t know if he can carry them in the playoffs. You can see his age starting to kick in.”

Those comments, which came before Thursday’s news that LeBron will miss time with an abdominal injury, reflected what others said: That maybe, just maybe, LeBron’s stunning run of durability is finally giving way to his age as he approaches his 37th birthday.

Said another former executive who’s worked for a LeBron James team in the past: “I can see that man. Injuries — you’re not immune anymore. And those shoulders aren’t getting by the same way. And if he can’t do that and collapse defenses by getting your shoulder down and getting by guys, the formula of putting a bunch of shooters around him doesn’t work anymore. If I don’t have to leave to guard LeBron to help because he’s guardable, then that approach of shooters around him doesn’t work anymore.”

Both sources doubted the Lakers will finish atop the Western Conference or make the NBA Finals.

NBA scout familiar with the Lakers

“What do I think about them? Less than I thought going in. My opinion has changed some, but long term I still trust LeBron to figure it out — if he’s fully invested. But I think their ceiling is a lot lower than I thought it might be. That is buoyed by the fact long term I don’t think anybody in the West has looked all that great. Yes, Utah has looked really good but we’ve seen that before with Utah, and I’d still take the Lakers over Utah in a series. What’s Jamal (Murray) going to look like in the playoffs? Same with Kawhi and the Clippers? The initial results and returns on the Russ fit are not great and those concerns have proven to be founded. But LeBron is the best problem solver in the history of the league.”

Projected Western Conference finish: “Fifth.”

Projected postseason run: “I’d be surprised if they get to Western Conference finals. But, again, it is LeBron.”

Former NBA player

“It’s a tough one because in my heart of hearts, just from experience, when you put LeBron with a bunch of great players, even if it doesn’t look great, it works out. I’m also a big Russ fan. I think what he does can be integrated into a winning formula. But they’re not doing it. They’re not playing the way they need to play to have a player like Russ on the team and have him be impactful. For that reason I’m really worried about it. Twenty games is the right barometer (to judge a team), but I see signs offensively and mostly defensively why there are reasons for real concern. They don’t look like anyone’s afraid of them, and that’s a problem for LeBron. Because he’s still great but he can’t be that LeBron for 98 games. Not anymore. And AD may be the best No. 2 ever, but there’s no track record that we can just put the saddle on you and ride into championships. And I love Russ — I love him — but it’s not working. They need to make a big move. You might even have to move Russ. That roster is too flawed.”

Projected Western Conference finish: “Fourth or fifth.”

Projected postseason run: “Second round. However, I do think they’re built to somehow find a way to get in there and then it’s a recalibration of, in a seven-game series, and things slow down, and all the BS that happens in the playoffs — the calls, the benefit of the doubt LeBron’s going to get from the officials, the pressure he’s shown he can handle — and it’s hard to bet against them.”



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