Any kung-fu movie fan knows you are always your greatest enemy. The problem with cliches is, you don’t take them seriously. It’s a kung-fu movie line! Well, as it turns out, Lebron is LeBron’s greatest enemy. The man wanted more playmakers in Cleveland, he got them in LA and….doesn’t really like it that much. It a struggle between player LeBron and GM Lebron.
In a way, it’s comparable with the coach/GM failure we see around the league. Doc in LA, Thibs in Minnesota, Van Gundy in Detroit, Bud in Atlanta. Every case study showed two things: one man can’t do two jobs and maximize his performance in both and there is an inherent conflict of interest between the two positions and it creates a Jekyll/Hyde situation. Coaches have a “win the next game” mentality and GM’s have a “build a contender in the timeframe of my contract”; it’s days vs. years and usually, in the end, the pain of losing takes over and short-term moves happen. It’s coach/GM and not GM/coach. Losing sucks and they want it to stop.
The same goes for LeBron. Players have more agency than ever and LeBron is the poster boy for the change. As much as he denies it, it is obvious that every step of the way he was and is consulted on basketball moves. There is also the weird Klutch Sports connection no one is talking about, a potential conflict of interest looming, but when you are LeBron you get to do more than travel. Out of sight, out of mind.
Back to the point at hand. If you pick LA, acceptance of their youth is implied. If you want to let them grow, they have to play through their mistakes, no other way around it. Think of it as the first 7 years in Cleveland + a final against, let’s say, Dallas. Even the best need to make their share of mistakes, you can’t work your way out of experience. Everywhere he went, LeBron was (rightfully so) the focal point of the team. The best solution was Lebron + a superstar (Wade/Kyrie) and a bunch of specialists that have to be able to shoot the ball. Let LeBron do his thing and be ready for that pass.
In his older age, LeBron would like to give some of the playmaking burden to someone else. The problem is, that is GM LeBron talking when he gets tired and frustrated of doing everything himself. Then player LeBron steps on the court and watches Lonzo, Kuzma, Ingram, and Hart make mistakes, not improve at his speed and lose games. That gets annoying quick so you get the ball and tell them to move out of the way. Next thing you know they are asking for a trade and moving to Boston! So when the Lakers signed Rondo, McGee, and Lance in the offseason, that didn’t really work with the “let the kids grow” vision. It’s not just the players that get that treatment, ask any coach LeBron ever had in the NBA (via Brian Windhorst, ESPN):
The scouts also have noticed that when James is running the point, he rarely looks toward the bench to receive playcalls from coach Luke Walton. Even when he has seen them, the scouts say, he ignores them and runs the play he prefers. Walton has adjusted, and now when James is running the show, Walton will typically just let him call the game. This probably shouldn’t be considered a slight — it’s just James being James.
When LeBron picked LA everyone saw the basketball logic behind it the same way. LeBron will take a year off, rest and rejuvenate his body, as this team is clearly not good enough to contend. That will give room for the young players to develop and the team to see who can work with LeBron. A perfect outcome to be prepared next summer when the Lakers have cap space and can assemble a contender: rested LeBron + superstar(s) + keep the kids that can work with LeBron + trade the ones that can’t for assets.
The only problem is, player LeBron and GM LeBron need to be on the same page. The only place where asset management was out of reach was Miami. Pat Riley had enough power and legacy to listen to LeBron, but do what he thinks is best. That may be one of the reasons why LeBron left Miami. Now his GM is the best player Riley ever coached. For now, Magic and Walton are no Riley and Spoelstra.