LeBron James is, at this point, playing purely for his legacy, putting any finishing touches he can on his GOAT argument before age catches up with him for good and sends him into retirement.
Bron’s got four rings, including a ring in Cleveland in 2016 that came for his hometown against a team that went 73-9 in the regular season and had a 3-1 lead in the Finals.
He’s got a “career triple double”, having notched his 10,000th rebound and 10,000th assist during this 2021-22 season to put the finishing touches on an accomplishment that no other player in NBA history has done.
He’s second all time in scoring, and even in this, his age-37 year, he’s leading the league in scoring at 30.3 points per game, which is his all-time high. If LeBron wants to demand the ball and go full-bore at passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, it’s not like he can’t still put points on the board in a hurry.
And on top of that, he’s got 1,695 points in 56 games this season. He’s 1,326 points (through Friday’s loss to the Pelicans) away from Kareem. Only a catastrophic injury or a sudden complete loss of ability to put the ball in the basket on a truly unprecedented scale will keep LeBron from breaking that record sometime during 2023, just in time to play out the rest of his contract with the Lakers and either return home to Cleveland for a farewell tour and a possible shot at becoming the only player to score 40,000 career points or retire with absolutely nothing left to accomplish.
Because that’s what’s got to be what motivates LeBron at this point, right? It’s hard to see a team with a truly legendary competitor on it playing so badly that their 5-18 record in their last 23 games has dropped them not only out of the top six in the West but out of the top 10. If the season ended today, and it’s only about five games off, the Lakers wouldn’t even be in the play-in games.
Because truly, Los Angeles earned the hashtag of #LOLakers this year. Bringing Russell Westbrook on when his advanced stats have fallen off a cliff and the only thing he used to be good at—gunning for counting stats so shamelessly that he bamboozled the MVP voters in 2017 and completely rendered meaningless the entire concept of a triple-double—he’s not even good at anymore.
Westbrook has a .468 career eFG%. This year, he’s shooting under 30 percent from beyond the arc for the fourth time in the last five seasons. He hasn’t made the All-Star Game since 2019, and he’s played on four teams in the past four years as it’s more and more obvious nobody wants him.
Carmelo Anthony is on this Lakers team as well, and he’s just as washed as he was in Portland, Houston, and Oklahoma City over the past five years.
OK, maybe that’s not fair to Melo—he has pulled his WS/48 back to the .100 Mendoza Line and posted a positive (plus-0.7) VORP this year. But he still hasn’t been good—and hasn’t made an All-Star team—since 2017.
Anthony Davis has finally seen the wheels come off his durability. He played 38 games last season. He’s played just 36 this year. And in his entire career, he played in more than 90 percent of his team’s games just twice—75 each in 2017 and 2018 in New Orleans.
Sure, he’s still very good when he plays—.159 WS/48 and 1.9 VORP—but even those numbers are a sharp dropoff from the .250 WS/48 and 5.0 VORP he posted in 62 games in 2020 on that title team. Davis is a broken-down Bluesmobile of a player, rapidly sinking into that Yao Ming or Bill Walton abyss of young big men who could never stay on the floor.
A Cast of Thousands
Between the Omicron asterisk and the injuries, 24 players have suited up for the Lakers this year. Of those, 16—including Isaiah Thomas, who never met a 10-day contract he didn’t like as he desperately tries to stay in the league at age 32—started at least one game.
Only two guys—LeBron and Davis—have even one VORP on this team. The next three guys, in order, are Malik Monk (0.8), Melo (0.7), and Dwight Howard (0.3). The Lakers had ten guys post measurable (at least minus-0.1) negative VORP this year out of the 24 guys they’ve run out there, and three of them—Thomas plus hey-I-thought-you-disappeared Darren Collison and the 23-year-old Chaundee Brown Jr.—did it in four games or less.
Three guys—Collison, Brown, and Mason Jones—have even posted a negative PER, with Brown puking out a minus-8.7 in that stat that truly defies description.
When the only two guys on your team who are any good at all can’t stay healthy, when your roster is so old that the word “legacy” comes up for at least three different guys—Bron, Melo, and Westbrook—in every conversation, and when your team is 5-18 in their last 23 and seems to be playing itself out of the play-in games, that’s a full-fledged disaster.
But hey, at least without the burden of having to compete for a championship, LeBron can finally go full-on chasing history. A 37-year-old setting a career high in points per game sure is one heck of a sight.