When the Los Angeles Lakers signed LeBron James over the summer, the messaging that began funneling out of El Segundo felt like wishful thinking. First, there was chatter from the Lakers brass that LeBron would play center in a small-ball lineup, despite LeBron’s career-long hesitance and distaste for doing exactly that. Then there was the hope that the team could manage LeBron’s minutes “better” than the Cleveland Cavaliers were able to, a notion that’s already started to crumble as he’s averaging 35 minutes per game. Finally, the last fantasy was that LeBron, whose usage rate has hovered around 30 percent for most of his career, would be able to spend more time playing off the ball with the multitude of ball handlers the Lakers posses. That’s proving to be a pipe dream, too.
With the Lakers in the midst of blowing a 23-point lead to the Indiana Pacers on Thursday night, LeBron took over, as he’s done countless times over his 16-year NBA career. He finished the night with 38 points, nine rebounds, and seven assists, allowing the Lakers to hold on for a 104-96 win to improve their record to 12-9. LeBron’s usage rate currently sits at 31.2 percent this season, but even The King himself is surprised (and dismayed?) at how much he’s had to handle the rock early on in this 2018-2019 season.
“I figured I wouldn’t have the ball in my hands as much coming into the season with the multiple ballhandlers we have on this team,” James said.
Each LeBron season feels like he’s just living out the same Westworld loop over and over again. The team wants to bring his minutes down, get him off the ball and not have him carry so much of the offensive load. In reality, these things are impossible. LeBron will eventually default to doing what he always does, as he’s done for the entirety of his career. Attempting to stop the natural order of things feels pointless.
“That’s the challenging thing I’ve been kind of battling with since the season started,” James told reporters. “How much do I defer, and kind of allow some of our young guys to figure it out, and how much do I try to take over games?”
As the season progresses, and the Lakers’ young guns continue to mature and find their way, LeBron will default to being the player he’s always been, and that shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.