PRESS BOX: Trouble in La La Land: LeBron’s legacy on the line with the Lakers

Former NBA MVP LeBron James plays in various games versus the Washington Wizards. Photos Courtesy of All-Pro Reels and Keith Allison via Wikimedia. Photo illustration by Bailey Wood.

Arrick Wilson, Sports Editor

LeBron James has had pressure to be great his entire life. The Akron, Ohio native was put into the spotlight at the young age of 18 and scouted as one of the greatest NBA draft prospects by many analysts. The spotlight has amplified as the Lakers are struggling to stay on track to the NBA playoffs.

James became the first-ever NBA player to score a record of 30,000 points, 10,000 rebounds and 9,000 assists in a career, on Jan. 19, according to Basketball-Reference. Even with all these personal accomplishments and accolades, the Los Angeles Lakers are still struggling to stay in playoff contention.

Popular ESPN writer and commentator Stephen A. Smith commented on the Lakers struggles expressing they were a huge disappointment. 

“I’m bringing my brooms because it’s a mess. That’s what the Lakers are, they’re an absolute mess,” Smith said on his show “First Take.”

It wasn’t always like this. In 2020, the Lakers won the NBA Finals versus the Miami Heat, defeating teams like the Portland Trail Blazers, Houston Rockets and Denver Nuggets. James spent another season in his hyperbaric chamber, defying age limits while earning the NBA finals’ most valuable player accolade. After winning the title, James went on to say how difficult it was to come on top during a press conference.

“It’s probably been the most challenging thing I’ve ever done as far as a professional, as far as committing to something and actually making it through,” James said.

The Lakers have hit its lowest of lows, currently ninth in playoff contention in the Western Conference. Now, who should fans point the finger at for this series of awful playing? One may say Russell Westbrook, or as NBA fans know him, “Westbrick,” for constantly missing shots. The former MVP was once in his prime, averaging double digits in three categories, known as a triple-double, finishing last season with an average of 22.2 points, 11.5 rebounds and 11.7 assists per game, according to Basketball-Reference

This season, Westbrook has fallen off. Fox Sports One television personality, Shannon Sharpe, criticized Westbrook after his horrible performances landed him on the bench in a game. 

“How about shoot with a better efficiency? How about turning the ball over at not a higher rate as you’ve been doing?” Shannon said during his television show Undisputed. “The guy that was an MVP, the guy that’s been an All-NBA player.”

Not only has Westbrook played horribly, but James’ counterpart, Los Angeles Laker forward Anthony Davis has been fragile like glass, getting injured frequently. The three-time leader in blocks per game has been inactive due to lingering injuries and a recent Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) sprain, according to Basketball-Reference. It just seems as if Davis cannot stay healthy, constantly being injured and playing inconsistently. 

Something simply has to give with this horrendous midseason push that the Lakers are going through. Here’s a solution: trade Westbrook for some promising and efficient players who will play well consistently. Players like Detroit Pistons forward Jerami Grant or Sacramento Kings guard Buddy Hield, who are both key players and have averaged double numbers this season, according to Basketball-Reference.

The Lakers organization should also look at the possibility of firing head coach Frank Vogel. Vogel has been given a very talented roster filled with four future NBA Hall of Famers, and besides one championship, what has he accomplished? More recently, he benched Westbrook. Westbrook hasn’t been the best but benching him isn’t the solution. To put it simply, Vogel has to put the Lakers in a position to win, and he has not done that at all.

Sportswriter and television sports talk show host Tony Kornheiser criticized Vogel for benching Westbrook.

“You can’t bring Russell Westbrook to your team, and then bench him in crunch time. He’s played in the league for 14 years and he’s going to the Hall of Fame. You can’t humiliate him,” Kornheiser said on “ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption.” 

James said he’s always endured a heavy responsibility since joining the league, when asked about taking on less burden for his team given Westbrook’s recent performances and Davis’ injuries.

“So, workload – I was 18 years old saving a franchise, so I don’t really understand a light workload,” James said in a press game conference

The Lakers need to make a move, something needs to be done to preserve this season. At this point, it seems as if the Lakers are wasting the last years of James. Lakers Nation, fix it.

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