Five Takeaways from LeBron to the LakersJuly 2, 2018
- The Lakers are relevant again
After a franchise record five losing seasons in a row, the Lakers will be in the playoff hunt once again. That usually happens when you sign the greatest basketball player in the world. LeBron won’t be expected to take this young Lakers team to the finals in his first season, but a winning season should be a given. James hasn’t endured a losing season since his rookie year, in which his team finished 9th in the Eastern Conference. The Lakers also have the potential to clear $25-30 million in cap space if they trade away Loul Deng and renounce the rights to Julius Randle. The only reason they would do that is if DeMarcus Cousins decides he wants to leave New Orleans and follow James to Los Angeles. With Cousins on the roster expectations would grow, but nobody should expect that team to beat the Warriors in a playoff series. If the Lakers decide to retain Randle their best option would be over paying him for one season and letting him become an unrestricted free agent next summer. That way, as long as they can get rid of Deng’s contract, they will have room to sign two max contracts in the 2019 summer. With Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, and other All-Star players set to become free agents, the Lakers could sign two of those players to play alongside LeBron. Magic Johnson and James should be able to draw more stars to the city and it could be realistic for them to enter title contention by the 2019-2020 season. Whether they make big moves this year or next, the Lakers are definitely relevant again.
- The L-Eastern Conference just got worse
Sports Illustrated ranked their top 100 players of 2018, and with LeBron signing with the Lakers, eleven of the top twelve belong to Western Conference teams. The lone player in that top twelve is Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks. The same Bucks team that finished seventh in the Eastern Conference and lost in the first round of the playoffs. The Celtics have the deepest and most talented team in the East and they proved that by pushing LeBron’s Cavaliers to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals. They did so without arguably their top two players in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. The 76ers are extremely young and finished third in the East during Ben Simmons rookie season and Joel Embiid’s first full season, so they should be expected to improve internally. Toronto finished first in the conference, but they’ve been known to shrink once the playoffs start. Assuming the Cavaliers regress tremendously, there could be two or three teams that finished with losing records make the playoffs next season. That usually happens anyways, but because of free agent signings or rookie of the year candidates. This time it could happen simply because the conference just got worse. The Pistons, Hornets, LeBron-less Cavaliers, and maybe even the Nets or Bulls could find a way to sneak into the Eastern Conference playoffs next season. The lone bright spot in the East that nobody is really talking about, in my opinion, will be the Indiana Pacers. Their team is extremely young, with Al Jefferson, Thaddeus Young, and Darren Collison being the only players 30 years old or older. They exceeded expectations last season when projections had them missing the playoffs entirely, by pushing Cleveland to seven games in the first round of the playoffs. Their star player, Victor Oladipo, is also just entering his prime at 26 years old. Myles Turner is just 22 years old and former first round picks T.J. Leaf and Domantas Sabonis join this year’s first round pick Aaron Holiday as players under 22 years old with untapped potential. Outside of the Celitcs, 76ers, Pacers, and the occasional Greek Freak unbelievable play, I can’t find a reason to watch the L-Eastern Conference next season.
- Magic Johnson won’t be quitting his job anytime soon
At the beginning of free agency Magic Johnson was quoted saying, “Next summer, if nobody comes and I’m still sitting here like this, then it’s a failure. This summer, and next summer, and that’s it. And if I can’t deliver, I’m going to step down myself.” Johnson made these comments regarding his ability to attract big name free agents to the Lakers. To summarize, he said if he couldn’t sign a star by the 2019 summer he’d step down as President of Basketball Operations for the team. Well no need to worry Lakers fans, Johnson worked his magic and ended up with the biggest name of them all, LeBron James. Having Magic and LeBron should eventually lead to other stars coming to the Lakers as well. Lakers fans everywhere, along with Magic, are surely smiling this morning after signing the best player in the world.
- The Celtics-Lakers rivalry is officially back
By now I’m sure you’ve heard LeBron is on the Lakers, especially if you’ve read my previous takeaways in this article. You should also know Kyrie Irving is the starting point guard for the Boston Celtics, due to him asking for a trade away from LeBron’s Cavaliers in 2017. This should surely reignite the Celtics-Lakers rivalry that goes all the way back to Bill Russell and Jerry West. Probably the most talked about rivalry in the Celtics-Lakers history was the Larry Bird and Magic Johnson 1980’s matchups. If Kyrie resigns next summer in Boston, this rivalry could become even more heated than the old days. Magic Johnson is in control of player personnel for the Lakers and Danny Ainge is in control of player personnel for the Celtics. Ainge and Johnson also played against one another in the Celtics-Lakers rivalry. Ainge was a starter alongside Larry Bird and Kevin McHale while you probably know Magic was the star of the Lakers alongside Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. If LeBron and Magic can build the Lakers back into contenders, this historic rivalry should be revitalized for the first time since Kobe played the original Big Three of Boston.
- Warriors vs. Celtics will be the finals matchup in 2019
Not to ruin next season for anybody, but the Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors will be playing in the NBA finals. Even with Chris Paul returning to the Rockets and LeBron joining the Lakers, Golden State is the clear favorite to win the Western Conference. Having four All-Stars, including two MVPs, is hard to beat and no team in the West has upgraded enough to see eye-to-eye with the Warriors. Yes, the Rockets may have been able to beat the Warriors last season if Chris Paul didn’t get injured, but I don’t look at hypotheticals to discount a team’s success. Paul has an injury history, especially in recent playoffs, and the Rockets lost starter Trevor Ariza. Ariza was the primary defender for Kevin Durant and a sharpshooter from the perimeter. Having to fill that void might cause the Rockets to regress next season rather than potentially beating Golden State. The Warriors being in the finals for a fifth straight season would come as no surprise, but the Celtics reaching the finals for the first time since 2010 shouldn’t either. As I addressed earlier, the Eastern Conference is considerably weaker without LeBron James. LeBron reached the finals by winning the East eight seasons in a row, with him now gone another team will have to step up. Boston is clearly that team. With a healthy Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving, Boston should be able to coast through the Eastern Conference Playoffs and eventually meet the Warriors in the finals.
Written by Clifford Buck