LeBron And The Lakers: What Went Wrong During His First Season In Los Angeles
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
For basketball fans, it was the blockbuster move of the season.
(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)
MICHAEL STRAHAN: We're going to talk about the huge move for LeBron James, the king. He's taking his talents to Los Angeles.
ADRIAN WOJNAROWSKI: This is a seismic shift in the league.
PAULA FARIS: It is official. LeBron is a Laker.
KELLY: Well, that was then. Now things sound more like this.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER: Some of the bluebirds have come out.
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Booing).
KELLY: Boos there for LeBron James. Since LeBron left to LA last summer, the team has managed to compile what one sportswriter calls, arguably the most disappointing season in Lakers history. Now, that sportswriter is LA Times sports columnist Arash Markazi. And he joins us now from outside the Lakers' practice facility. Hey there, Arash.
ARASH MARKAZI: Hey. Thanks for having me.
KELLY: So the most disappointing season in Lakers history - really?
MARKAZI: Here's why. Not that they were supposed to win a championship, but they were supposed to at least make the playoffs. And they were supposed to be competitive, and they were supposed to contend. For this team to be as bad as they are, they're not going to make the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season. That's why this is so disappointing.
KELLY: And that is looking like a done deal; they're not going to make the playoffs?
MARKAZI: No. For all intents and purposes, they are not going to make the playoffs.
KELLY: So what went wrong here, because the expectations were through the roof for LeBron hitting LA?
MARKAZI: It was a variety of things. So LeBron James missed a quarter of the season. When he went down on Christmas Day, the Lakers, at that point, were the fourth seed in the Western Conference, really playing well. When he went down...
KELLY: And remind us what his injury was.
MARKAZI: He hurt his groin on Christmas Day against the Warriors, who are the top team in the league and are expected to win the championship again. They blew them out on Christmas Day, so that's where they were at that point in time. LeBron goes down. And again, they are not a competitive team. By the time he comes back, they're not even a playoff team.
And another thing that happened - they tried to make a few trades. And a lot of these young players - all of a sudden, they don't know if they figure into the long-term plans of this team. So their attachment to the Lakers, their attachment to LeBron kind of goes away. And so this team fell apart again. Guys were not only hurt, but the trust level was broken as well.
KELLY: So all of this, I gather, is giving rise to whispers. I want to play a little bit of tape. This is sportscaster Jeff Van Gundy of ESPN commenting during a game against the Boston Celtics.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
JEFF VAN GUNDY: They have to rebuild this roster, right? And to me, I think they need to explore trading LeBron.
KELLY: Trading LeBron - I mean, mind-blowing. How did we get here?
MARKAZI: I mean, it is crazy, I mean, because he's right. This roster is broken, so something has to be done. You have to surround LeBron with new players or trade LeBron. Now, I don't think you trade LeBron. I think LeBron is a superstar that they've wanted to get. And by the way, he came to Los Angeles because he wants to retire here. He has, you know, plans to do things in Hollywood. So I don't think he would want to go somewhere else.
The plan, I believe, is to draft players, sign players, trade for players who will be a good fit for LeBron because the fact of the matter is the players that they've surrounded LeBron with are not good fits for him.
KELLY: Are fans in LA starting to wonder if this is the beginning of the end of the reign of LeBron?
MARKAZI: I think so. I mean, it was a very unique position for a lot of Laker fans because for the past 20 years, they have been Kobe Bryant fans. And if you're a Kobe Bryant fan, usually, you are part of the debate that says Kobe is superior to LeBron. And now, there wasn't this feeling that, can I root for LeBron? So Laker fans are in this unique position.
I'll give you a perfect example. LeBron James passed Michael Jordan on the all-time scoring list.
MARKAZI: You would have thought you were at a golf tournament. It was a very polite clap, but there was no cheering. No one got excited because the fact of the matter is there's no connection with LeBron. They don't love him like he's their own.
KELLY: Although he is still averaging - is it 27 points a game?
MARKAZI: Oh, yeah.
KELLY: I mean, it's not shabby.
MARKAZI: No, listen; I mean, LeBron is not going to go anywhere. They signed him so they could have that superstar player. That is the one thing that this Lakers franchise has always had. Whether it's Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, they've had a superstar. LeBron is their superstar. Now, the plan for them this summer is to get one more superstar.
KELLY: That is LA Times sports columnist Arash Markazi talking to us from outside the Lakers' training facility. Thanks so much, Arash.
MARKAZI: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.