- Maddie Meyer/Getty
- The Los Angeles Lakers built a puzzling, seemingly odd-fitting team around LeBron James this summer.
- The former Cleveland Cavaliers general manager David Griffin argued on a recent podcast that the Lakers wouldn’t have the luxury of figuring out how to play together in a competitive Western Conference and that they could miss the playoffs.
- Griffin also argued that while the Lakers’ roster could succeed in the regular season, he’s worried the pieces around James won’t allow James to excel if they do make the playoffs.
The Los Angeles Lakers baffled the NBA world this offseason by following up their signing of LeBron James by building a team of seemingly ill-fitting pieces around him.
In signing players like Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, and JaVale McGee, the Lakers said they wanted to add ball-handling, length, athleticism, and toughness. They also said James might spend more time in the post. In essence, they didn’t want to build the Cleveland Cavaliers 2.0 and surround James with shooters.
- Jason Miller/Getty Images
David Griffin, the former Cavs general manager who helped build those Cavs teams around James, sees a problem with this Lakers team (as does much of the basketball world). He told Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck on a recent episode of the podcast “The Full 48” how, in his view, there would be two major factors working against James and the Lakers this season.
First, Griffin said, the Lakers won’t have time to figure out their team as the Cavs did in 2014-2015, when James returned to Cleveland from Miami. That’s because the Western Conference is just too good.
“We started our first year together – with LeBron back and Kevin Love and Kyrie – we started 19-20 that year,” Griffin said. “And when you go through that kind of upheaval early on, in the East, you’re able to not have a great deal of stress around, ‘We have to make the playoffs.’ And obviously with that roster, at the time we put it together, we felt really strongly that, if we just get in the playoffs, we’re gonna wreak havoc.
“In the West, you don’t have that. You don’t get the advantage of, figure it out on the fly and let it take a great deal of time and start out 19-20 because your pieces are terrible fits.”
The West looks like a slaughterhouse this year
Last year, the Denver Nuggets and the Minnesota Timberwolves had to play a play-in game to make the eighth seed in the Western Conference. The Nuggets missed the postseason with a 46-36 record.
This year, the West looks equally as stacked, as none of last year’s playoff teams have had any significant setbacks in the offseason. The Nuggets actually look improved, as do the Memphis Grizzlies and the Dallas Mavericks. The Los Angeles Clippers were just five games out of the playoffs last year. And now the Lakers added James. It stands to reason that two to three good teams will miss the playoffs in the West this year, just because there are only eight playoff spots.
Griffin noted that for as good as James is, his teams have still hit rough patches at times. In the East, the Cavs could afford to go through those. In the West, that could cost the Lakers a playoff spot.
There is a concern with the roster built around LeBron
But even if the Lakers do make the playoffs, Griffin is concerned with the roster they built around James. Griffin said that it might be a good idea to ease the burden on James by putting playmakers around him during the regular season but that in the playoffs, James should have the ball.
“I buy that they probably sold him to a huge degree on the notion that: ‘Look, we won’t ask as much of you in the regular season, so you have more in the tank in the playoffs. We’re going to put more play creation around you so that you don’t have to be asked to carry such a huge burden,'” Griffin said. “Which is great if they’re elite playmakers. Which is great if they’re super high-end ball-dominant, efficient guys.”
He added: “What I think happens in the playoffs – he’s the single most efficient play creator in the playoffs in all of the NBA. So because of that, you want him making decisions. You want him creating those opportunities. And you’re not going to create them for a Rondo jump shot. You’re not going to create them for a Lance Stephenson jump shot.”
Griffin said the Lakers would need players who could finish plays in the playoffs, and he’s not sure they have enough of that around James.
The debate over the Lakers’ long-term plan
There’s been a debate in the NBA about what James and the Lakers’ plans are. James signed a four-year contract with the Lakers, a longer commitment than he ever made with the Cavs in his second stint in Cleveland. Some think James and the Lakers realized they did not have a realistic shot at competing this year when the Lakers balked at the asking price for Kawhi Leonard and did not land Paul George. Perhaps the Lakers only found players willing to take one-year deals to keep them competitive this year, while preserving cap space for next summer.
If that is the case, that James and the Lakers are willing to spend a year growing, it would be surprising, particularly with James in the back half of his prime.
James and the Lakers have plenty of skeptics heading into the year, but they’ll be one of the more fascinating teams in the NBA. Luckily, we’ll get to see plenty of them.