LeBron James #6 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts during a game against the New Orleans Pelicans in the second half at Crypto.com Arena
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The Lowest Point of LeBron James' Legendary NBA Career is Unfolding in LA

The Los Angeles Lakers are the best soap opera in sports. They give us ups, downs, betrayals, backstabs, reunions, winning, losing. Truly a daily gift. Well, maybe for everyone except Charles Barkley. The most recent episode featured the star of the show pouting as intensely as one can pout. Late in a Lakers loss to Clippers, the camera captured LeBron James sitting on the bench, motionless and dead-eyed for a full minute.

Later in the same week, King James pleaded with referees to call a foul on Jayson Tatum late in the Lakers' matchup with the Celtics. With 4.1 seconds left on the clock and overtime looming in the 105-105 game, James drove to the hoop. Tatum leapt to defend, and LeBron drew iron as the referee's whistle stayed around his neck. No foul. Overtime was next. LeBron was incensed, jumping around the floor, hands on his head questioning his very existence. Finally, James fell to his knees at the free throw line. The King knew his Lakers couldn't win in overtime; and despite his best efforts, the game was lost. The Celtics would go on to win the game.

This is the most abject LeBron has looked since J.R. Smith forgot the score in Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals. In all three situations, it's not hard to read The King's mind: This team does not have enough. In 2018, his Cavs did not have enough to beat the juggernaut Warriors in the finals.

In 2023, for the second season in a row, his Lakers may not have enough to make the playoffs. 

LeBron in Los Angeles

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

The entire LeBron chapter in Los Angeles has been strange. In the summer of 2018, he joined a young and inexperienced core featuring Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart and Alex Caruso. All of those players became viable NBA rotation guys, but back in the 2018-19 season, the young pieces did not fit together. James played only 55 games en route to a 10th-place finish for the Lakers. He went from making eight straight conference finals appearances to sitting out in May and June. It was our first taste of playoff basketball without the King, and it was a little strange.

The following summer, the Lakers shipped Ingram, Ball, Hart and three first-round picks to the New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for Anthony Davis. The upside was immediate, and the Lakers won the championship in 2020. Davis and James proved to be the best duo in the NBA, and the surrounding parts played tough defense and hit enough timely shots to support them. It was a perfect fit and, frankly, the monthslong break the league (and world) was forced to take due to COVID-19 may have been a beneficial rest for James.

Much of the same core came back in 2021, but Davis and James missed a lot of time. The team limped to a seventh-place finish and got summarily smoked by the Suns in the first round. It was a disappointing season, but it was to be expected when your two best players are injured.

Westbrook Comes West

Russell Westrbook celebrates a play during a Lakers game.

Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

In the summer of 2021 — instead of tweaking the roster and trusting that their stars would come back healthy — the Lakers got rid of a lot of their depth and traded for Russell Westbrook. Anyone who has watched LeBron play basketball over the last 20 years knows what kind of players work well around him. He is one of the best playmakers in NBA history. He dominates the game, has eyes behind his head and can set guys up for wide-open threes at a moment's notice. He is at his best when he has the ball and can control the flow of the game. 

So why did the Lakers' brass think adding a ball-dominant guard who shoots 30% on 3-pointers was a good idea? It was truly anybody's guess! 

The Westbrook era in Los Angeles has been a disaster. The Lakers finished in 11th place last season and are currently sitting in the bottom chunk of the Western Conference standings. His numbers are fine, and he's even the odds-on favorite to win Sixth Man of the Year. But the vibes are off, the chemistry is brutal, and the wins are not coming at a consistent rate. 

Ultimately, the biggest difference maker in LeBron's time in La La Land has been Anthony Davis. When the big man is healthy, the Lakers can win any game. When he's out or playing hurt, they're a fringe playoff team at best. 

This all leads to one of the best players in NBA history sitting at the podium answering questions about whether he thinks his team should make moves at the trade deadline

LeBron's Laker Legacy

LeBron James #6 of the Los Angeles Lakers dunks the ball in the fourth quarter of the game against the Washington Wizards at Capital One Arena

Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

Due to COVID-19, the Lakers did not play any home games in the 2020 playoffs. Their fans never got to experience King James in playoff mode. They didn't even get a championship parade. It all adds up to a very bizarre scene where one of the best players in NBA history is playing for one of the two most-storied franchises in the league, and there's no sense of connection or joy. 

At some point in the next week or two, LeBron is going to pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for first on the NBA's all-time scoring list. It will be a moment of celebration, to be sure. But what about in an alternate universe where LeBron stuck around in Cleveland or even Miami and accomplished the same feat? It would be the most talked-about thing in either city for months. Instead, it will just be another episode in "Days Of Our Lakers" — a fun moment that could end up being overshadowed by a mind-numbing Westbrook turnover or Patrick Beverley antic.

LeBron certainly had some say in all of the decisions the Lakers' front office made. In some ways, he shares some of the blame for all that's gone wrong in Laker Land during the past two seasons. Still, the King deserves better. So do NBA fans.

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