LeBron James and the Lakers Shouldn't Mess with Perfection at Trade Deadline

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 24, 2020

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JANUARY 23:  LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers drives to the basket against Spencer Dinwiddie #8 of the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center on January 23, 2020 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Mike Stobe/Getty Images

The looming NBA trade deadline has a way of forcing every team to focus on fixing its flaws. But in the wake of the Los Angeles Lakers' 128-113 win over the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday, there's at least one team that should resist the temptation to tinker.

A 15-point win over a reeling Nets squad (2-12 in its last 14 games) playing with one healthy center may not be the best basis for making deadline decisions. And in the era of superteams, the Lakers could be forgiven for worrying that another title threat could make the bold move they eschew.

But the Lakers' play all season, and against the Nets, suggests a big swing isn't necessary.


Dominance by Committee

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No, Kyle Kuzma isn't the third star he said he could be. His 16 points off the bench were helpful, and he's finished with double figures in each of his last four games. But his ball-stopping tendencies and occasionally glaring lack of feel mark him as much more of a role player than a reliable night-to-night star.

That's not a problem when you've got so many other weapons chipping in.

Dwight Howard, a spot starter for the ill JaVale McGee, bullied the undersized Nets for 14 points and 12 rebounds.

Danny Green drilled four of his seven three-point attempts, a couple of which you knew were good based on the perfect rhythm of his patented tippy-toe hop gather.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope nailed all three of his attempts from deep, also joining Green in pestering Brooklyn's guards.

Go down the list. Jared Dudley had his moments. So did Rajon Rondo, who managed 10 assists in 23 minutes.

We haven't even mentioned Anthony Davis and his 16-point, 11-rebound night—partly because he doesn't belong on a list of role-fillers, but also because he didn't have to do much with so many able helpers lightening the load. 

This is a team of smart, no-nonsense (or, in Howard's case, mostly benign nonsense) vets who can shoot, defend and benefit from the across-the-board greatness of LeBron James.


LeBron's Heavy Lifting Is Light Work

With 27 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists, James logged his 10th triple-double of the season. It was a solid reminder that you don't really need a third star when you've got one who can do the work of several.

LeBron spent most of the game in analysis mode, taking whatever the listless Nets defense permitted before spurring a late 26-2 run with buckets from all over the floor and setups nobody else could have made.

In some ways, the Lakers on Thursday embodied James' probing, whatever-the-situation-calls-for approach. They overpowered the Nets with size when the opportunity presented itself:

They ran past them when it was appropriate: 

And they leveraged superior skill to cap things off:

When James has the right pieces around him, which he seems to with this Lakers group, he can guide his team to success in whichever way makes the most sense on a given night. And when the opponent is as overmatched as the Nets were Thursday, James can toy with several options before getting serious enough to choose the one that works best.


Greatness Is Good Enough

Perhaps most importantly, this isn't a Lakers team that needs the jolt of a roster shakeup.

Green has been on plenty of great teams, has won a pair of titles and should be viewed as an authority on the kind of chemistry it takes to succeed in the NBA. And he told ESPN's Zach Lowe that he's never had more fun with a group of teammates than he's having now.

Maybe if the Lakers were prone to long stretches of lackadaisical play, you could justify a change—something to signal to the roster that championship chases have to be taken seriously. But L.A. ranks in the top five for both offensive and defensive efficiency, which indicates it doesn't check out often.

What's more, the Lakers aren't big on letdowns. Their win Thursday came on the second night of a back-to-back set, a situation in which most teams might succumb to fatigue or inattention. Not so with these guys.

Sometimes, the justification for sitting out the trade deadline frenzy, at least as far as significant moves are concerned, is "leave well enough alone."

For these Lakers, the rationale is a little closer to "don't mess with perfection."


Stats courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball Reference unless otherwise indicated. Accurate through games played Thursday, Jan. 23. 

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