The Los Angeles Lakers are a train wreck, and despite adding LeBron James during the offseason, the team is going to end up barely better than the 35-47 record they posted in 2017-18. With five games left, the Lakers are 35-42, eliminated from the playoffs, and they’ve sat King James for the rest of the year.
The even crazier part? This team wasn’t even very good with LeBron in the lineup.
In 55 games, LeBron’s Lakers were 28-27. They’re 7-15 without him, a 26-56 82-game pace, nine games worse than last year’s record, and with him, their projected 42-40 mark would have been eliminated from the playoffs by now as San Antonio and Oklahoma City already have 44 wins each.
And we could go through all the reasons the Lakers have been terrible—awful roster construction with the likes of Lance Stephenson, Michael Beasley, and JaVale McGee, injuries to LeBron and Rajon Rondo and Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball, the team’s suck-faster ethos with the fourth-fastest pace and ninth-worst Offensive Rating…
But mostly, this is the story of a bad team that got worse when it added a superstar.
The only player besides LeBron with at least 1,000 minutes who is above the Starter’s Mendoza Line for WS/48 is JaVale McGee; at .099, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is the best remaining Laker with significant minutes.
There’s the whole projected-record thing, assuming that you’d otherwise replace LeBron’s minutes with more minutes given to Ingram or Kuzma or spending the free agent money to keep Julius Randle from going to New Orleans.
Ingram is a negative-VORP (-0.4) player. Kuzma’s numbers were barely over what you’d expect from dragging someone out of the G-League.
Record-wise, we’ve established that the Lakers are a team in the mid-20s win-wise (they were on pace for 23 wins before beating New Orleans on March 31 and 26 wins afterward.)
If we go deeper into those numbers, we see a team that’s a little bit better than that, though not by much.
Unadjusted for pace, the LeBron-less Lakers have a minus-4.3 point differential in 22 games. That’s good for a 29-53 projected record, so they’re about one win in 22 games worse than their projected record.
Still, this team went 35-47 last year!
Before the season, I called the Lakers roster a 30-win team without LeBron.
The team doesn’t shoot enough three-pointers (their .342 3PAR is 18th in the league) but probably shouldn’t be shooting threes (their .333 3P% is second-worst in basketball, ahead of only the just-plain-disgusting Suns at .328.)
The team is 12th in Defensive Rating overall but appears to drop off without LeBron (whose 1.8 DPBM is miles on top of miles better than the likes of Ingram, who can’t guard a dead cat, or Kuzma, whose defense is so atrocious that he makes 2015 James Harden look like first-team All-Defense.)
The defensive drop-off is confirmed to a degree, although not pace-adjusted, by noting that the Lakers were allowing 111.3 points per game as of December 25, when LeBron went down with the injury, and are allowing 113.6 points per game for the overall regular season (and considering the sample sizes before and after Christmas, that means in essence about a four or five-point swing defensively.)
Again, that’s not pace-adjusted, but the Lakers are the fourth-fastest team in the league; we can draw some conclusions from that.
The blunt fact is that if LeBron James had simply joined a 35-win Lakers team that kept most of its young core intact, and if LeBron hadn’t alienated all of his young teammates by threatening publicly to trade them for Anthony Davis, and if LeBron had gotten hurt to remove that variable from the discussion…
…the Lakers might actually have made the playoffs this year.
As it stands, when LeBron sits, it becomes alarmingly self-evident just how much of a negative effect LeBron the GM has on the team around LeBron the Player, and just like the Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat were both Superfund sites after LeBron skipped town, so too will the Lakers franchise be damaged horribly by whatever time LeBron spends there.
At least Cleveland and Miami got titles out of it for their trouble.
Meanwhile, over in Philadelphia, Sixers fans should be thanking their lucky stars they didn’t land LeBron in free agency. But that’s a story for another day.