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LeBron James on verge of NBA history, but Lakers’ success hinges on Russell Westbrook

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EL SEGUNDO, CA - SEP 26, 2022: LeBron James being interviewed during Lakers Media Day at the UCLA Medical Training Center in El Segundo on Monday, September 26, 2022. (Christina House/Los Angeles Times )
Lakers forward LeBron James said it’s “super humiliating” and “super cool” to be chasing an NBA scoring record this season. (Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

This season, with any luck, the day will come when LeBron James will sit down at the table with a microphone and Lakers‘ as he did on Monday when he scored more points than any other player in NBA history.

Just 1,325 points behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, sprains, broken bones or tissue bruises are more likely to stop him than 29 other defenses in the NBA.

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This could be the story of the season.

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“Sitting here and knowing that I’m on the verge of breaking what is probably the most coveted record in the NBA, something that people have said that will probably never be done, is just very humiliating for me,” James said. “I think it’s very cool.”

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However, James has never been the type to settle for “super-cool” individual accomplishments, arguments for his place among the greatest players have always been reinforced by his three-franchise rings and his yearly trip to the NBA Finals with the Cleveland and Miami Heats. “.

But on the eve of James’s 20th season in the NBA, no one thought about these historic points, which will soon be scored. Instead, it was questions about whether those points would come in meaningful games as the Lakers faced remediation from last year’s 11th-place team in the West.

On paper, the Lakers seem like a team with little shooting and size on the flanks. Having made a 180-degree turn a year ago, they filled the edges around their stars with youth and athleticism. FROM Darwin Ham now coaching the team, they have prioritized tenacity, which perfectly embodies Patrick Beverly.

There were several standard news of the day media − Dennis Schroeder resolves some visa issues, Lonnie Walker IV (ankle) and Troy Brown Jr (back) are beaten and Kendrick Nunn (knee) is cleared for full contact. Most of Monday was about big things that could be cut down to three words: “Could this work?”

Russell Westbrook, the team’s landmark acquisition a year ago, is back, but no one pretended it was the perfect end to the summer.

For the Lakers who outdoor training camp In Las Vegas Tuesday, Westbrook’s $47 million contract and the team’s lack of assets to sell made moving the former MVP in the deal a major challenge. Generally speaking, the Lakers haven’t found a trade that they think will improve them enough to make it necessary to forego lone first-round picks they can trade under current league rules.

The Lakers are left with the same problems they faced last season. Can Russ “be Russ” in Ham’s system better than he could with Frank Vogel, James and Anthony Davis a year ago? He wouldn’t say.

“I am myself every single day when I wake up,” he said. “In terms of basketball, I will continue to do what is best for the team, do whatever is asked of me, I will continue to do so.”

Lakers forward Anthony Davis and coach Darwin Ham chat during press day.
Forward Anthony Davis and head coach Darwin Ham were among the Lakers who praised Russell Westbrook’s offseason approach and commitment. (Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

Davis said he heard Westbrook’s comments late in the season about not being allowed to be himself and reiterated that he felt it was still the best route to success.

I think it just takes time,” Davis said. “This offseason, we were able to sit down and talk about what worked and what didn’t work, and hopefully we can sort out everything that didn’t work. Obviously, a new system, a new coach, who are also always changing something, so I’m interested to see what happens. But I think we all have a chip on our shoulder.”

However, the move is not far off.

“Let me be very clear: we have one of the greatest players in LeBron James who has ever played this game, and he signed us to a long-term contract, a three-year contract. So, of course, we will do everything we can, including picking deals to give us a chance to help LeBron get to the bottom of it,” said general manager Rob Pelinka. “He is committed to our organization. It should be a bilateral commitment, and it is.”

But …

“You have one chance to make a multi-selection trade,” Pelinka explained. “So if you make this trade, I’m not talking about one specific player on our team, but it has to be the right one. You only have one chance to do so. Therefore, we are very thoughtful when deciding when and how to use project capital in a way that improves our composition.”

Meanwhile, Westbrook impressed some executives with his attitude – Ham made it clear that he challenged Westbrook to make an impact on defense.

Lakers defenseman Russell Westbrook points at someone on press day.
New coach Darwin Ham called on Lakers defenseman Russell Westbrook to have a bigger impact on defense this season. (Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

Another easy way for the Lakers to improve is to give James and Anthony Davis the opportunity to work. Both struggled with injuries last season, which severely limited a ceiling that had already been lowered by an imperfect and aging squad.

The Lakers said they would do everything they could to keep James and Davis as healthy as possible, including minute and scheduling management.

“We don’t need Bron or AD to play in the playoffs in October or November or December,” Ham said.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.


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