The Los Angeles Lakers could get LeBron James back sooner rather than later. Despite missing the last 12 games with a foot injury, James is apparently eyeing up a return to action before the postseason starts, which would give the Lakers a much-needed boost as they enter the play-in tournament or the playoffs.
Even with James out, though, things have been going pretty good in Laker Land lately, as the team has gone 7-5 in his absence. Anthony Davis has unsurprisingly been terrific, but a pair of guards — Austin Reaves and D’Angelo Russell — have stepped up in a big way with James on the sideline. Reaves, in particular, is playing the best basketball of his young career, and on Thursday’s episode of Keyshawn, JWill, & Max, ESPN’s Jay Williams told Keyshawn Johnson and Max Kellerman that he has some reservations about how James coming back will impact their play.
“Everybody keeps saying, and I’m the one that said it first and so I started digging down into it: ‘Well, if you bring back LeBron, this team can get to potentially the Western Conference Finals,’” Williams said. “How do you bring back LeBron? The more I sit there and think about it, the more I think about, when you bring back LeBron in this short period, how in the hell is Austin Reaves supposed to continue playing at this level? The ball is in Austin Reaves’ hands a ton, you guys know the kind of lather, the kind of rhythm that you get when the ball is in your hands? You increase the amount of possessions, the volume of possessions, I feel way more comfortable with the rock now.
“When LeBron comes back — and Austin Reaves has been ballin’, D’Lo has been ballin’,” he continued. “But now you bring LeBron James back, are you gonna play LeBron James off the ball if you’re Darvin Ham? You really gonna do that when it comes time for playoff basketball? There’s almost a part of me, Key, that somewhat believes that, yeah, bringing back LeBron, if you had 10 games left in the regular season, 15 games left, it gives him time to get more acclimated. But with what, a week left in the regular season, if that’s the time frame, with two games left, maybe the play-in, maybe into the playoffs, that’s almost maybe working against Austin Reaves and D’Lo.”
When asked by Kellerman if bringing James off the bench is a viable option, Williams, who has praised Lakers guards on TV before, said, “You try to, but still, LeBron is ball-dominant,” while Johnson agreed that he’ll come off the bench as he works to figure out his rhythm.
“That’s what I’m saying, find that rhythm, the ball needs to be in his hands to find a rhythm, right?” Williams responded.
After a conversation about the aesthetics of Reaves as a basketball player, Williams tied a bow on the conversation.
“All I’m saying is, you drop LeBron James in with two games left, man, Austin is doing his thing, D’Lo,” Williams said. “Now, I don’t know how you make guys not defer to maybe one of the greatest players the game of basketball has ever seen.” When Johnson asked if James is sitting and watching and decides it is best to fit into how the Lakers are currently playing, Williams posited that it’s “easier said than done, because at the end of the day, in clutch moments, you’re gonna look at the dude, you’re gonna look at the guy.”
Williams does have a point that bringing James back very well could have a negative impact on guys who are blossoming in larger roles, although it is easy to argue that the trade-off is worth it because James is the kind of player who can win you a championship, even if having players around him performing at the levels we’ve seen out of Reaves and Russell recently is an important piece of the puzzle.