The tandem of LeBron James and Anthony Davis has failed the Los Angeles Lakers this season.
A duo that won a championship just a few short years ago has failed to live up to expectations time and time again. One year after winning it all, they got eliminated in Round 1 of the playoffs. The next season, they failed to even qualify for the Play-In Tournament.
So far this year, the trend has seemingly continued.
In 19 games without Davis on the floor, James is 10-9. Meanwhile, Davis is 11-9 when James is out of the lineup. When both play, the Lakers are 15-15.
At the same time, the Lakers are a below-.500 team without Davis on the court (12-14) and have a similar record without James (13-14). And when neither is available to play, they are 2-5.
It’s clear that the two players are important, yet when one is available and the other isn’t, LA is slightly better. It may be a marginal difference, but it’s a difference nonetheless.
The common theme is a team hovering around the .500 mark, but based on the recent comments of Troy Brown Jr., the underlying issue has nothing to do with the play of James or Davis. The issue is health.
“I feel like there’s some good to it and some bad to it, honestly,” Brown Jr. said of James’ return to the court via the NBA Interviews YouTube channel. “Just it being so quick. You kind of go to get used to it. Obviously, he plays a certain way. He moves the ball a certain [way]. We were playing a certain style, and then he comes back, and we have to adjust. So, it’s good to have these next two days to figure it out and get it together. Obviously, we’re very happy to have him back. But there are some things where it was like, ‘Dang, if we just had a little bit more practice, it definitely would have helped us.’ But we’re definitely happy to have him back.”
When Davis is hurt and James is out, the plan is clear – play through James. The same goes for the opposite scenario. But the team gets so used to playing through one option or the other, especially when one is out for a long stretch of time, that team chemistry and rhythm suffer when the other eventually returns.
Unfortunately, it seems to be an unavoidable issue moving forward.
Lakers Suffering Consequences of Injuries
The unfortunate truth for LA is that neither James nor Davis has stayed healthy this season. In the 2019-20 season, both players played 60 or more games, but since then, neither has cracked that mark.
For James, it’s a symptom of old age. As he enters the twilight years of his career, the days of him playing 70 games a season are over, and that’s something the Lakers must come to terms with.
There’s even a chance he could need surgery this summer, though James gave a non-answer when asked about that possibility.
“I don’t know. Right now, I don’t need it,” James said via the NBA Interviews YouTube channel. “So, we’ll see what happens. I’ll probably get another MRI at the end of the season and go from there. But if I end up having to get surgery after the season, you guys won’t know. I don’t talk to you guys in the offseason, and by the time next season starts, I’ll be fine. I’ll be ready to go.”
For Davis, the harsh reality is that he’s just an injury-prone player. The last time he played more than 70 games in a season was back in 2017-18, and since then, he’s only played more than 60 games one time (the 2020 championship year).
Solutions to Anthony Davis & LeBron James Problem
Without the assurance that both players will be consistently available, the Lakers are left with a few options.
One is solidifying a gameplan. A plan of action that suits the team regardless of whether or not both players are available. By changing the gameplan each time one re-enters the lineup, the team runs into problems like the one Brown Jr. detailed.
What that plan should be is the real question. Should Davis always be the number-one option? Should James play a secondary role as he enters the backend of his career? Does a third star like D’Angelo Russell need to step up and become the everyday facilitator? Those are the questions that need to be asked.
Another potential solution is something they addressed at the deadline – adding more depth. With the number of quality players on this team, the Lakers are much more well-suited to withstand the eventual absences of James and Davis.
Players like Malik Beasley, Austin Reaves, and Russell can create for themselves, while guys like Jarred Vanderbilt and Mo Bamba (when healthy) can bridge the gap on the defensive end.
All in all, the Lakers need to prepare for life with and without James and Davis. If they continue to organize their franchise, structure their roster, and prepare their gameplans as if both will be available, they will fail.
The key is to plan for life without them and push for greatness when they’re both active. LA’s future depends on it.