Can LeBron James Return the Lakers to Their Former Greatness?

Make no mistake about it: LeBron James will lead the Los Angeles Lakers back to their former greatness.

But he won’t be doing it alone.

LeBron will have a superstar in Anthony Davis as his co-star and a budding star in Kyle Kuzma, who looks poised to make the leap in his third season. James will even have former All-Star Dwight Howard, who is looking for a career renaissance. The rest of The King’s team look like a perfect fit — completely unlike last season’s mismatched roster: 3-and-D specialists Danny Green, Avery Bradley, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Jared Dudleu, athletic rim-runner JaVale McGee, the reliable Rajon Rondo, and talented guards Alex Caruso and Quinn Cook.

It’s a talented roster. But at the center of it all is The King. It is a fact likely not lost on LeBron, who organized a minicamp for the Lakers in Las Vegas this offseason. Stadium NBA Insider Shams Charania reported on the minicamp, and described it as being “meant to galvanize and bond this Lakers unit right before the start of the real training camp,” which is now in full swing in Los Angeles.

“It’s really showing the premium that teams and star players are putting on team chemistry going into a very important NBA season, a true free-for-all NBA season,” added Charania. Indeed, this is a wide-open season, with as many as seven teams (the Lakers, included) with a legitimate shot at winning the title.

 

The Price of Donning Purple and Gold

The weight of expectations on the Lakers – and LeBron, for that matter – is massive. Fair or not, it’s championship-or-bust for James now. But if there is one man who can handle such overbearing pressure, it’s LeBron. He is built for this, and has won it all before – first with Miami in 2012 and ’13 and then with Cleveland in 2016. He’s battle-tested, and with a career points total that could surpass Kobe Bryant for third all-time this season, his greatness is proven.

Greatness in the NBA comes in many forms. Just this week, Nets superstar Kevin Durant told Hot 97 in New York that the Knicks are “not as cool” as teams like the Warriors, Lakers or Nets because kids today don’t remember the Knicks being successful on the court. So how can the Lakers remain “cool”? You guessed it: LeBron James.

LeBron’s celebrity in the NBA is unparalleled. He is the second-highest earning athlete in the world today, trailing only soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, and remains basketball’s biggest earner by a mile, making over $77 million annually. A chunk LeBron’s earning come from his ever-expanding empire, including a lucrative lifetime deal with Nike, sponsorship deals with a host of major companies, and a variety of investments. This is why the LeBron-LA marriage is perfect: Hollywood gives King James the perfect platform to showcase his on-court excellence, and grow his brand further.

At the same time there is a price to pay by signing with the NBA’s most storied franchise. Players the caliber of LeBron are expected to deliver titles to Los Angeles. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson did so in the 1980s. Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant did the same in the 2000s. Kobe and Pau Gasol did it too, just this past decade.

Now, it’s LeBron’s turn.

 

“Almost Unbeatable”

If that is not enough of a burden to bear for LeBron, Lakers legend Magic Johnson just upped the ante. In July, Magic described the Lakers as “almost unbeatable.” He has a point. A fourth quarter lineup of James, Davis, Kuzma, Green, and Bradley looks like a handful. It is not quite the “The Hamptons Five” of the Golden State Warriors, but it is formidable to say the least, with the perfect balance of shooting, defense, and playmaking. At the center of it all will be LeBron, who will be the Lakers’ de facto point guard.

These Lakers are arguably the best team LeBron has ever had. They are most definitely deeper than LeBron’s Heat and Cavs teams. These Lakers are also more balanced and have better playmakers top to bottom. In fact, this is exactly the kind of roster that can best maximize The King’s savant-like playmaking. The bet here is that LeBron will play facilitator early and often, involving Davis and Kuzma as much as possible and getting Green, Dudley, Caldwell-Pope, and Bradley a bunch of open looks. Look for LeBron to take over only when necessary, as in a close game against a contender.

 

Caution in the Wind

The Lakers’ future looks promising. But fans of the Purple and Gold should keep their fingers crossed. Things can go wrong between now and June, and last season is a grim reminder of that. The Lakers, going into a Christmas Day showdown with the Warriors, were 4th in the West and seemed poised to make the playoffs. Then LeBron suffered a major groin injury, and thereafter things went downhill for the Lakers. With last season’s collapse, the injury history of Anthony Davis, and LeBron’s possible regression (he’s 34, going on 35) hovering like a dark cloud, the Lakers are not a risk-free team.

Then again, all LeBron needs is a chance to contend. He will have that chance with these Lakers. Already, former teammate Richard Jefferson has warned the league that LeBron will be back with a vengeance.

“LeBron James will be the best player in basketball again,” Jefferson proclaimed on ESPN’s Get Up.

As The King reclaims his throne, so too will the Lakers reclaim their former glory.