Lebron is still in LA. We already talked about the implications this has on the power balance in the East, but we have yet to explore the consequences of the most dominant player in the world joining the fray in the already-competitive Western Conference. What will be the consequences for the West? And was this really the right choice for Lebron?
What is certain is that the Western conference will feel the presence of the King with the Lakers. The Lakers had much young talent already, and were looking exciting. Lonzo Ball, regardless of all the drama his father drew up, has performed for the Lakers at the point guard position. Kyle Kuzma, another rookie, was brilliant as well. Brandon Ingram, drafted in 2016, in all his similarities with KD, has is also coming off a great season. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (strangest name in the NBA for sure) also had a breakout season, shooting a career-high 38% from the 3 point line. Already, the Lakers were a young, talented squad with much potential. And now, they have not just the King, but more pieces to work with.
Lebron’s effect on the Lakers needs no explanation. In fact, he could have gone to any team and made them relevant, seeing what he did with the frankly lackluster Cavaliers last season. But with his experience in the playoffs and the sheer dominance he’ll command on the court, the young Lakers are likely to be a wonderful supporting cast for the 3-time NBA champion. And without a doubt, his move to the Lakers at the start of the free agency season made the Lakers look like a much better destination for other free agents as well. Javale Mcgee, the 7-foot center formerly for the Warriors, Lance Stephenson, known for his strong personality, and Rajon Rondo, the experienced, pass-first point guard from New Orleans, have all joined the ranks of the Lakers since Lebron’s move there. These are all solid pieces for the Lakers, that will only improve their roster. Truly, the Lakers are looking like a playoff team.
And with Lebron, a playoff appearance is nearly impossible to not have. He’s been in the last 12 playoffs in a row, and as competitive as the West is, having witnessed Lebron carry, drag, and otherwise lead the Cavaliers to the NBA finals, the Lakers are finally looking like they might be able to contend in the playoffs. But can they really? The West is truly superior in terms of talent to the East; had Lebron and the Lakers went to the East, they would’ve been strong favorites to go to the finals again. But in the West? Even with Lebron and all of these pieces, there is much to prove for the King.
The Warriors and Rockets need no mention. They have dominated the West for the past few seasons. The Warriors added Demarcus Cousins, making them (as usual) the likely contenders in the Western Conference finals. The Rockets, coming off a wonderful season, have managed to keep the core of Chris Paul and James Harden, and will likely continue their dominance as well. And then there are the other contenders. The OKC Thunder, who have managed to keep Paul George on their roster whilst getting rid of Carmelo Anthony, will be a strong team still. The Jazz with their super-rookie Donovan Mitchell will surely be a force to be reckoned with. The New Orleans Pelicans, despite losing Rondo and Cousins, still have Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday, while acquiring Julius Randle from the Lakers, and are looking exciting. As long as Popovich is still at the helm, the Spurs can never be counted out; last season they played with no star players (they didn’t have a single All Star), and still managed to make the playoffs. The Timberwolves have kept their solid core of Jimmy Butler, Karl Anthony Towns, and Andrew Wiggins, and again will be a playoff-contending team. As usual, the Nuggets are still evaluated to be a playoff team, with Jokic and Murray leading them on the floor, while newly acquired ex-All Star Isaiah Thomas will be fighting to prove he can still compete. And finally, the Suns, led by Devin Booker and their newly-drafted 1st pick Deandre Ayton, will finally look to contend for the playoffs as well.
Simply put, nearly every team in the West (except the Kings and the Grizzlies) is looking like it might contend for the playoffs. Such is the saturation of talent in the West. Many of the teams mentioned towards the end would certainly be in the playoffs in the East; the Nuggets, the Pelicans, and the Timberwolves especially, perhaps even the Suns. Lebron has made it to the past 8 finals despite not having the best roster in the league, not only because he was the best player in the league but because the East wasn’t nearly as strong as the West. While this shouldn’t ever discount his achievements, it is simply unlikely he would’ve seen similar playoff success in the West. So in terms of succeeding in the playoffs and contending in the finals for another ring, Lebron might have put himself in a rough spot. And in many ways, it is a chance for Lebron. A chance for him to prove that it isn’t a weak Eastern Conference but his true dominance that has delivered him to 12 straight playoff appearances, that he truly is capable of competing at the highest level, that he truly is the King.