Why LA Lakers Don't Need LeBron James in 2014
To preface this, LeBron is obviously a deserved MVP and any team, if given the choice, would choose him as their centerpiece.
In terms of necessity, the L.A. Lakers don't need LeBron in order to rebuild themselves into a contender. That's not to say they wouldn't take him if the stars aligned perfectly.
There are two main reasons the Lakers don't truly need LeBron. The first is that there are other superstars like Carmelo Anthony that can be targeted in free agency to build around.
The second reason is that everything is a luxury until they satisfy their one true need. The Lakers' true need is to define their identity and philosophy moving forward.
It doesn't matter if the Lakers get King James or Anthony in the offseason if their system isn't conducive to winning.
Despite his talent and the overwhelming amount of talent they were perceived to have prior to last season, the Lakers didn't have a successful season because they didn't seem to have an identity established.
This is why the Lakers don't truly need LeBron as much as they need to resolve this identity crisis they are facing.
Doing so means making a definitive decision on Mike D'Antoni. Always surrounded by drama, D'Antoni's tenure with the Lakers has involved him forcing his system onto a roster that doesn't mesh well with it. Finally altering the system to some moderate success at the tail end of last season, D'Antoni showed he can still be a great coach if he's willing to compromise.
If the Lakers wish to establish D'Antoni's system and culture upon the roster, they will have to build that roster to fit into the system. Obviously, James is a fit into any system and can do all the things D'Antoni needs from a run-and-gun system.
If the Lakers wish to go away from D'Antoni's run-and-gun system and establish a new philosophy, James could fit in regardless.
The point is that the Lakers have enough cap space to completely restructure their entire roster based on a system, not on a player.
Conventional wisdom says that a team picks a superstar as a cornerstone and builds the roster to supplement his strengths and hide his weaknesses.
While this may be the meta, the Lakers are in a peculiar situation because of Kobe Bryant. With his contract expiring after this season, it is almost an absolute certainty the Lakers will re-sign him.
Even well into his 30s, Bryant and his alpha male personality will dominate whatever roster he dwells in.
The smart move would be to look to the future, but Bryant is too good for sales and merchandise to be released by the organization.
This means that the Lakers' best bet would be to establish a system and to sign the best available talent that fits that system. Most of the big names on the market could fit into different systems anyway.
Even Carmelo and his ball-dominating style could potentially mesh well with a run-and-gun or a half-court system alongside Bryant if Bryant reverts to his facilitating playing style from last season.
Every team needs a superstar. James is arguably the best and most versatile superstar in the league. By definition, the Lakers and every other NBA team needs LeBron. However, it would be unwise of them to start the offseason without a clear objective of what kind of roster needs to be built.
Can the Lakers establish a team identity and philosophy this season?
This is what this season is for. With a roster full of spare parts that should tide them over for the year, the Lakers need to use this time to really hammer home an identity the way Phil Jackson was able to do for them for all those years.
Perhaps even more importantly, the Lakers are going to need to redefine themselves on the defensive end of the floor.
Despite Howard's ailing back, the Lakers should have improved defensively last season. However, due to injuries and inconsistent coaching, they regressed. Ranking ninth in opponents' scoring percentage during the 2011-2012 NBA season at 43.8 percent, they fell to 17th last season.
When the Lakers are finally able to outline a clear direction to move forward towards, they'll be able to consider the personnel they'll need to make that journey. Whether this involves James should be predicated on this newly realized identity.
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