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Sports Then and Now

LeBron to the Lakers! What’s the Big Deal?

Posted on July 04, 2018 by Dean Hybl
LeBron James will become the 20th out of the top 83 scorers in NBA history to play for the Lakers.

LeBron James will become the 20th out of the top 83 scorers in NBA history to play for the Lakers.

If you are surprised by NBA superstar LeBron James signing with the Los Angeles Lakers then you obviously are not much of a follower of basketball history.

Once LeBron officially takes the court for the Lakers, he will become the sixth of the top eight scorers in NBA history to wear the purple and gold for the Lakers. Currently the seventh leading scorer in league history, James will join Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (first), Karl Malone (second), Kobe Bryant (third), Wilt Chamberlain (fifth) and Shaquille O’Neal (eighth). Only Michael Jordan (fourth) and Dirk Nowitzki (sixth) among the top eight never player in Los Angeles.

But looking at career scoring really only scratches the surface in terms of how normal it is for NBA greats to play for the Lakers.

Though not in the top 10 in all-time scoring, Jerry West (21st), Elgin Baylor (29th), Magic Johnson (77th) and James Worthy (102nd) all were all-time greats who spent their entire careers playing for the Lakers. Of course we also cannot forget the first great NBA player, George Mikan, who led the Minneapolis Lakers to five NBA titles in six years and won three scoring titles during his seven year career.

Others from among the top 100 scorers of all-time who spent at least a portion of their career with the Lakers include Adrian Dantley (28th), Gary Payton (32nd), Pau Gasol (39th), Mitch Richmond (41st), Antawn Jamison (44th), Gail Goodrich (52nd), Bob McAdoo (61st), Glen Rice (68th), Dwight Howard (70th), Lou Hudson (73rd) and Steve Nash (83rd).

So, the point is that with 20 of the top 83 scorers in NBA history among your list of former players, having all-time greats come to Los Angeles at some point in their career is not something that is new or unusual.

However, the question for LeBron is whether he will be able to follow in the footsteps of Kareem, Wilt and Shaq, who all led the Lakers to NBA titles.

It took Kareem Abdul-Jabbar four years in Los Angeles before he led them to an NBA title.

It took Kareem Abdul-Jabbar four years in Los Angeles before he led them to an NBA title.

Certainly, having led his teams to eight straight NBA Finals and nine overall illustrates that the Lakers will automatically be better with LeBron on the roster. However, after spending his entire career in the Eastern Conference where there typically were a couple good teams, but no juggernauts to beat each season, it will be quite different for LeBron out West.

Not only does the Western Conference boast a Golden State Warriors team that has won three of the last four titles and just added an All-Star center to their roster, but also a number of other talented squads.

The Houston Rockets likely would have unseated the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals had it not been for an injury that cost point guard Chris Paul the last two games of the series.

The Oklahoma City Thunder will likely be a tough contender next year after resigning Paul George in a surprise free agent move that hurt the Lakers, since most expected him to go to Los Angeles to join LeBron.

The Utah Jazz, Portland Trail Blazers, San Antonio Spurs and Minnesota Timberwolves will all be fighting for a playoff spot in 2018-2019, but all are arguably as good or better than most of the teams in the Eastern Conference.

While LeBron automatically makes the Lakers better, whether they can become contenders will be dependent on who else they are able to bring to the team.

Wilt Chamberlain was a proven star when he joined the Lakers in 1968, but he joined a team that already had Jerry West and Elgin Baylor. But even with three superstars the Lakers lost in the NBA Finals twice and the Western Conference Finals once before they finally claimed a title in 1972.

When Kareem Abdul-Jabbar joined the Lakers for the 1975-76 season they went 40-42 and missed the playoffs in his first year. They advanced to the playoffs the next three seasons, but only once even got to the conference finals It was not until a rookie from Michigan State named Magic Johnson joined the team for the 1979-80 season that Kareem and the Lakers won a title (the first of five in the decade).

Similarly, when Shaquille O’Neal left Orlando for Los Angeles in 1996, they made three straight playoff appearances, but couldn’t advance out of the west. It was the emergence of Kobe Bryant as a true compliment to Shaq (as well as the addition of Phil Jackson as the coach) that helped them win three straight titles.

The question for LeBron is whether he has time to wait on the Lakers to find his partners. He will turn 34 in December and has played a lot of games and minutes in 15 NBA seasons.

There is no question that LeBron is one of the greatest physical players in NBA history, but will he be able to keep carrying a team into his mid and late 30s?

The Lakers have some solid young players and have signed a couple of veterans, including point guard Rajon Rando, to compliment LeBron, but unless they are able to get additional talent, it will be hard for them to be more than a middle level playoff team in the West.

However, if they are able to secure Kawhi Leonard either in a trade this offseason or as a free agent next year, that will certainly help the Lakers move up the pecking order.

If history is any guide, it may take a couple years, but the Lakers will likely find the players they need surrounding LeBron and make a run at more NBA titles before their new superstar is ready for retirement.

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