Although LeBron James historically had led rosters that were lined with experience, his signing with the Los Angeles Lakers meant joining a team that was still green and much younger than what he was accustomed to.
There was some thought the Lakers would break up their young core in a trade for Kawhi Leonard, who sought a separation from the San Antonio Spurs. A reluctance from the Spurs to deal with the Lakers, who in turn were hesitant to part with their assets, prevented a trade from coming to fruition.
The Lakers’ approach drastically changed ahead of the trade deadline in their quest to acquire Anthony Davis. The attempt proved futile as the New Orleans Pelicans didn’t show much inclination to give into Davis’ request.
So the Lakers pivoted and made two smaller moves: acquiring Reggie Bullock from the Detroit Pistons, and Mike Muscala in a rare trade with the Clippers.
With their roster all but set for the season, general manager Rob Pelinka drew a parallel from James and the Lakers to what Tom Brady and the New England Patriots accomplished by beating the Rams in Super Bowl LIII, via ESPN’s Dave McMenamin:
“My hope is our story is a little bit, maybe, like that where we’re on the outside but we find a way to get in the playoffs with the skill sets we’ve added. And then much like [Tom] Brady did, we let one of the all-time greats — LeBron [James] — take the helm for this team and make some noise.”
The Lakers went into Saturday in 10th place and trailing the Clippers by 1.5 games for the final spot in the Western Conference Playoffs. Their season once appeared much more promising, specifically after a drubbing of the Golden State Warriors on Christmas.
But James and Rajon Rondo were injured in the impressive win, and their extended absences plus other injuries along the way, sent the Lakers into a tailspin.
The Patriots experienced similar results during their regular season, opening 1-2 and suffering two consecutive defeats in December. They nonetheless finished atop the AFC East with an 11-5 record, and defeated the Chargers, Kansas City Chiefs and Rams en route to a sixth Super Bowl win for Brady.
Rondo recently downplayed any concern over the Lakers possibly missing the playoffs, citing James’ history and career success. Not only has the 16-year veteran made the NBA Finals eight consecutive years, his teams have reached the playoffs the past 13 seasons.
James and the Cleveland Cavaliers failed to reach the playoffs in each of his first two seasons in the NBA, the only such occurrence in his career.
Meanwhile, the Lakers are in the midst of a five-year playoff drought.
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