From Kobe Bryant to LeBron James: How Los Angeles Lakers place their faith in experience for long-term success
Kobe became intergral to the side's championship dreams after Shaquille O'Neal's departure after the 2004 NBA finals which the side lost, they went on to win the 2009 and 10 season under his leadership, now the Lakers want to do it with LeBron
LeBron James inking a two-year contract worth $85 million with LA Lakers might be a mere formality. He turns 36 later this month and will be 38 when the contract ends. Now this extension will see the aging superstar go through the 2022-23 season making him a player whose career has spanned two decades in the NBA. Eleven of his years were spent with the Cleveland Cavaliers over two stints, four of them with the Miami Heat and now, safe to say, he will bow out wearing the purple and gold.
The moolah raked in is astronomical. He is all set to earn $39.2 million this season followed by $41,180,544 in 2021-22 and $44,474,988 in 2022-23, according to ESPN's Dave McMenamin who reckons his career earnings will hit a whopping $435 million by the time the contract expires. Again, none of this should come as a surprise, and while the world can sit back and marvel at LeBron's career, the Lakers deserve credit for acquiring LeBron in the first place. Most importantly, giving him a couple of seasons more to add more silverware in the Lakers trophy cabinet.
It's a win-win for Rob Pelinka and LeBron. One gets a chance to dream of a potential three-peat, the Lakers are favorites to defend their title ahead of the season, while for the GOAT, it's an opportunity to surpass Michael Jordan and become a five-time MVP. Jordan has six championship rings, LeBron is two rungs below with four. Jordan retired in 2003 touching his 40s and LeBron, with still four good years to go has a chance to go down in history as a legend. He already is, he isn't done just yet.
However, this is more than just LeBron. This is also about the Los Angeles Lakers, one of most successful NBA teams in the history of the sport. They've spent 61 years in Southern California, 73rd year in the NBA, 24 Pacific titles, 32 Western Conference titles, and with17 Championships with the most recent trophy being won this year, Pelinka wants more. And he knows he can get it as long as LeBron has the strength in his legs and the hungry lion look in his eyes. Barring a few hiccups, the Lakers were undoubtedly one of the best sides in a stop-start COVID-19 affected 2019-20 season.
Fuelling their hunger to win was their wish to pay the ultimate tribute to the late Kobe Bryant who died tragically in a helicopter accident in January this year. And since we're talking about Kobe, it's not hard to see where the Lakers are going from here. Kobe was their future when they acquired him from the Charlotte Hornets in the 1996 NBA Draft. He spent a decorated 20-year career with the Lakers, LeBron now superseding him in the number of years played.
Kobe became intergral to the side's championship dreams after Shaquille O'Neal's departure following the 2004 NBA finals which the side lost. He was the cornerstone of a team built to play around the shooting guard. The late Kobe led the NBA in scoring during the 2005–06 and 2006–07 seasons. 2006 saw him register a career-high 81 points—the second most points scored in a single game in league history just behind Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point brilliance in 1962. Kobe led the team to two consecutive championships in 2009 and 2010, and both times also earned rings after he was named NBA Finals MVP.
And while Kobe had the games of his life, the Lakers won two championships when they were spearheaded by the genius. The chance of making a three-peat remained a dream with their last treble coming between 2000 and 2002. But now the dream is a possibility. Back then, they rallied to wins by constructing a solid roster around Kobe— Derek Fisher, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Josh Powell and Ron Artest. Now, Pelinka has LeBron in Kobe's place and has given him Anthony Davis, who is well on his way to probably surpass both LeBron and Jordan given his current form.
Davis' career and his ridiculous skills can be a discussion tabled for later. Note that with him in the roster continuing to support LeBron augurs well for the Lakers. And despite winning a championship, the side wasn't afraid to bid adieu to their famed names— Danny Green, Dwight Howard, Rajon Rondo, and Javale McGee, as they focussed on bringing in talent that would keep their starting lineup strong, and their bench even stronger with the addition of Dennis Schroder, Montrezl Harrell, Marc Gasol, Kostas Antetokounmpo, and Wesley Matthews.
Markieff Morris, Kentavius Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Kuzma stick around and add to the depth of the side. Frank Vogel's now a championship-winning coach and has a side that gives him options. Davis's contract is making headlines a rumor-a-minute and is purely centered on the side's long-term plans. And perhaps the one rumor about the delay of his signing that makes sense is the possibility of Milwaukee Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo signing up for the Lakers next season.
Again, that's wishful thinking and the only chance of that dream roster with LeBron, Davis and Giannis happens if the 'Greek Freak' doesn't sign a supermax contract with the Bucks. Hypothetically, if Giannis does come to the Lakers side, LeBron will have a side that can play under him where he can dual up as a player and mentor. This may mean less minutes for LeBron, or perhaps not, keeping in mind the rigorous training module he sticks to keep himself fit.
But, this is tactical genius on the part of the Lakers if Giannis teams up to form a dream trio. Essentially, the Lakers are going back to the tried-and-tested method of building a roster around their best player and LeBron after averaging 25.3 points last season and leading the NBA in assists with 10.2 per game, has given them faith that he's good for it. This extension is more than just numbers for the Lakers, and perhaps the only number that counts is the one that adds to their championships.
Call this months in the planning, but it's done now. Lakers fans can sleep with the confidence their side that they will wake up just to see No.23 turn out in purple, gold and the Mamba jersey for the next couple of years.