LeBron James is famous for many things, but one thing he will be most remembered for is the ushering in of the player empowerment era. Before James decided to go to Miami to team up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, GMs and owners controlled all of the personnel decisions of a franchise, a strategy that primarily worked for big-market teams.
In Cleveland, the organization famously declined to give up JJ Hickson to acquire All-Star Amare Stoudemire from the Phoenix Suns, leaving LeBron James with a rather modest supporting cast in his quest for his first NBA championship. Since then, players have worked closely with GMs to build championship rosters which have left front office executives powerless on many occasions. The strategy has worked well for James but has also often left him on the wrong side of an NBA finals series, which begs the question: Are GMs better off not being controlled by players’ wishes?
The argument for the players is simple. They are the ones on the floor playing to win, so they know who they would like to play with to achieve the most success. However, a recent development with the Los Angeles Lakers shows us why this might not be entirely true. The Lakers acquired Russell Westbrook in the off-season, largely due to the wishes of their star players. They believed they could make it work, but the Lakers are showing early signs of trouble in paradise, which could not bode well for their title hopes.
Rob Pelinka was ready to pull the trigger on a trade that would bring Sacramento Kings guard Buddy Hield to LA. In Hield, the Lakers would have acquired one of the best three-point shooters in the league, a perfect complement to the dynamic duo they already had in place. Instead, LeBron and AD pushed for the front office to acquire Westbrook, a move that is proving to bring more questions than answers to a struggling team.
Pelinka had the right idea in mind, but now his work to build a championship team has been undermined by the desire to build a super team in Los Angeles. At this point, the Lakers are not even looking like a top team in the West, barely holding on to the 8th seed early in the season. We will never know if Hield would have brought more success to the Lakers, but Pelinka did his homework, and in theory, this would have been an excellent fit for LeBron and AD.
Now, the Lakers face a massive roster problem as Russell Westbrook may be the hardest player not named Ben Simmons to trade. If the Lakers want to improve their roster, they have no choice but to find a way to make it work with their current set of stars. The Lakers have an abundance of small guards, none of which shoot the ball particularly well, which will continue to be a problem for the team as the season continues.
It’s safe to say that if LeBron and AD did not push Pelinka to make the deal for Westbrook, there would be less to figure out on the court, and the team chemistry would take much less time to build, so perhaps they should not have meddled in the first place. Players know the game very well, but GMs have one job: building a contender. They should be allowed to do that without any overt interference from players because they spend more time studying the roster than most, if not all, players do.
LeBron James has four championship rings but had trusted his GMs, perhaps The King would have a few more. The same goes for James Harden when the Rockets traded Chris Paul for Westbrook - perhaps Daryl Morey would have been able to get a better deal for Paul to help build a winner in Houston. We will never know for sure, but that’s why there are roles in an organization, because if someone dedicates more time to his role within the company, then they’re more likely to do a better job than someone who isn’t.