LeBron, Lakers and Lonzo: Could it all work in Los Angeles?

Dan WetzelColumnist

On Friday, LeBron James declined his option to play for the Cleveland Cavaliers next season, meaning he is officially seeking work.

(The job hunt is never easy, especially with a wife and three kids to support, so good luck to LeBron in finding a suitable opening.)

While a lot can happen quickly in the NBA, in reality, his free-agent derby is likely down to two teams: re-signing in Cleveland, either for one more year or the long term, or heading to the Los Angeles Lakers. Philadelphia and others are technically possible, but there appears to be very little movement on those fronts.

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LeBron wants to win a fourth championship and he has not held back his frustration with the current state of the Cavs’ roster, which has lost eight of nine NBA Finals games to the Golden State Warriors the last two years. If he can’t win there, then he needs to find a new place to try.

L.A., especially if it can add fellow free agent Paul George or San Antonio star Kawhi Leonard (via trade), may give him that. There is one significant question though with the Lakers.

Can LeBron really coexist with Lonzo Ball … and his dad?

It’s unlikely LeBron James wants to deal with LaVar Ball’s antics. (AP)
It’s unlikely LeBron James wants to deal with LaVar Ball’s antics. (AP)

Lonzo just finished his rookie season with the Lakers, who took him second overall in the 2017 draft. His father, LaVar, is an (extremely) outspoken entrepreneur and self-promoter.

In general basketball terms, LeBron is at his best when surrounded by good shooters who can play off him. You don’t bring in the best player on the planet to have him watch someone else be the star.

In big possessions, LeBron is the point guard and first scoring option. Having secondary scoring options (Dwyane Wade, Kyrie Irving), spot-up shooters he can kick to (Ray Allen, Kyle Korver), and inspired defenders and rebounders (Kevin Love, Chris Bosh, Shane Battier) allows a team to maximize James’ immense abilities. That wins championships. Maybe even over the Warriors.

Lonzo is a point guard who needs the ball. He’s a poor shooter – his unorthodox form delivered a 36 percent shooting percentage from the field and just 30.5 from behind the arc last season. He can pass – 7.2 assists per game – and rebound well for the position – 6.9 per game – but this isn’t a glove-tight fit with LeBron. Ball’s sorry 45.1 percent free-throw percentage makes him a hack-a-candidate in critical situations. Who knows if he can even be on the floor down the stretch in huge playoff games.

Then there is LaVar, who did all he could to orchestrate Lonzo to the Lakers a year ago. The Balls are from Southern California and Lonzo played at UCLA. They wanted the L.A. market to launch their family “Big Baller Brand” shoe and apparel line. Lonzo declined to work out for Boston, which at one point had the No. 1 pick in the 2017 draft, and LaVar made it clear it was Lakers or bust.

That’s all smart business and fair game. Since draft night, though, LaVar has been anything but quiet, ripping management, coach Luke Walton and becoming a general thorn in the franchise’s side. On a rebuilding team where his son is one of the stars, maybe that’s tolerable. Maybe.

LeBron, though, won’t suffer such fools. He isn’t looking for outside drama.

The narrative of LeBron’s teams runs through LeBron. He’s the alpha dog. The messages sent publicly are his. Everyone else plays off of his wants and wishes. That’s how good he is. He’ll promote his teammates and share the spotlight – especially with veteran winners he likes and respects such as Wade or Love or even Irving. They earned it.

Lonzo hasn’t, yet. LaVar never will.

Earlier this spring, LaVar was asked on the “Big Boy’s Neighborhood” radio show what LeBron, who’s merely won four MVPs and three NBA titles, could teach Lonzo if they became teammates.

“Can LeBron teach him what?” LaVar said. “No, he can’t teach him nothing. I already taught him everything.”

They love dramas in L.A., but does anyone, most notably LeBron or the Lakers, think that would work for an entire season?

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