Friday, June 2, 2023

LeBron James denies need for Lakers roster overhaul, coaching change: ‘I love every guy’ in this locker room

Teams that employ LeBron James usually don’t tolerate mediocrity. Two of his last four Cleveland Cavaliers teams drastically remade themselves midseason and another changed coaches. His first season in Los Angeles was done in, in part, by his front office’s failure to secure Anthony Davis before the trade deadline. Patience tends not to be in his vocabulary. 

On paper, that suggests that the 2021-22 Los Angeles Lakers are primed for a shake-up. The preseason Western Conference favorites are just 12-12 through 24 games despite one of the easiest opening schedules in basketball. They’ve struggled on both ends of the floor and injuries haven’t helped matters. The longer this goes on, the more fans will call for the sort of changes that James’ teams have undergone time and time again. LeBron just isn’t going to be the one calling for them. He defended the roster during Monday’s practice and argued that, more than anything, what the Lakers need is time together on the court. 

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“It’s impossible for me to say, ‘OK, when do we get to a point when we need a change?’ I don’t think we even need to do that,” James said. “I love every guy that’s in this locker room. I believe in what we’re capable of doing when we get enough game reps and enough logged minutes. We’ve had guys in and out, especially me. I can’t even say how I feel at this point because I’ve been in the lineup half of the games. So I love what Rob [Pelinka] and Coach [Frank Vogel] and the front office did to assemble this team. We look forward to the journey ahead of us.”

If the roster isn’t to blame, the next scapegoat down the list would seemingly be head coach Frank Vogel. He’s struggled to adjust to a roster devoid of the point-of-attack defenders that made his last two Lakers rosters so dangerous, but James wouldn’t throw him under the bus either. 

“I think criticism comes with the job, you know?” James said. “Frank is a strong-minded guy. He has a great coaching staff. And we as his players have to do a better job of going out and producing on the floor. We’re a team and an organization that don’t mind some adversity, that don’t mind people saying things about us, obviously, because it comes with the territory.”

Regardless of whether or not change of any sort proves necessary, pulling the trigger would be difficult. The Lakers, deep into the luxury tax, probably wouldn’t be too eager to fire Vogel and pay a second coach top dollar to fix the team. Trades are even more complicated because of the cap. The Lakers will struggle to match salary on any meaningful upgrade because Talen Horton-Tucker and Kendrick Nunn are the only players on the roster not making either the minimum or maximum salary. Even if James wants changes, they’re not going to be easy to make. He also gains little by lobbying for them publicly. The existing team isn’t going to turn things around without his confidence. 

But that confidence only goes so far. The Lakers haven’t made any aggressive changes yet, but we’re only 24 games into the season. If things haven’t improved at the 44-game mark, something is probably going to change. Championship windows are small under the best of circumstances. James is about to turn 37. This team will do what it takes to put a championship-caliber roster around him whether he likes it or not. 

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