LeBron James doesn’t usually have the final say on his team’s roster, but he does always have a say. A major say.
That’s especially the case with the Los Angeles Lakers and the Cleveland Cavaliers before them. James and his representatives helped build those teams. It’s how the Cavs ended up with Shaquille O’Neal and the Lakers with Anthony Davis. Those were players James believed his teams should target.
He got Davis right, as the Lakers won the championship in the 2020 Disney bubble. But since then, the Lakers have been a bust. This year, they were perhaps the most disappointing team in NBA history.
So the Lakers are firing head coach Frank Vogel, as relayed by OutKick’s Anthony Farris. But this massive disappointment of a season hardly falls entirely on the shoulders of Vogel. James has some share in the blame.
For starters, the Lakers returned just four players from last season’s team — James, Davis, so-so swingman Talen Horton-Tucker and center Dwight Howard, who at 36 is a bit over the hill. They brought in eight new players, including former All-Star Russell Westbrook who has been a clunky fit from the beginning.
Other than that, the Lakers went with veterans, with a sprinkling of mostly nondescript younger players. Davis, 29, is the team’s youngest star, but injuries continuously kept him off the floor for long stretches.
Others who are well past prime time were also brought in — from Carmelo Anthony to Wayne Ellington to Avery Bradley to Trevor Ariza to Kent Bazemore to DeAndre Jordan. Ariza and Jordan were released before the end of the season, and if Lakers GM Rob Pelinka has his druthers, multiple others will be let go this offseason too.
Westbrook is also likely on the down slope. The Lakers tried to unload him ahead of the Feb. 10 trade deadline, even offering him for fading Houston Rockets point John Wall, who sat out the entire season. It would have been the perfect deal, swapping one vastly overpaid dimming star for another.
But it was not to be. The Rockets wanted a first-round pick as part of the deal, and the Lakers traded most of those to land Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans back in 2019.
Though 37, James remains fantastic. There’s no questioning that. While he finished the season on the injured list with a bum ankle, he still averaged 30.1 points, 8.2 rebounds and 6.2 assists. In an otherwise lost season, he was still the Lakers’ greatest hope. Without him, they would have been lucky to win 25 games.
But that’s because of the players around him, the same players LeBron worked to bring to LA.
As one rival GM told OutKick earlier this season, “LeBron is a wonderful player, still the guy you build the team around. But he’s a terrible GM.”
That same GM later said James is no longer capable of carrying a team on his shoulders. Not at this stage of his career.
So it really doesn’t matter who coaches LeBron and the Lakers. Talent always wins in the NBA. Older players, unable to keep up with the size and speed of a young man’s game, struggle to defend. And this year’s Lakers were horrible defensively.
Again, that had little to do with Vogel and his philosophy. It had considerably more to do with the roster. In addition to their advanced age, the Lakers suffered countless injuries, often at the worst possible moments. It kept them from stringing together any sort of meaningful streak.
This has been the story for James. Earlier in his career, he brought drama, but also big names and championships. Any time things have gone awry on a LeBron team, the coach has taken the fall. In Cleveland, David Blatt was canned midway through his second season. In his first, the Cavs reached the Finals.
In other words, what happened to Vogel in LA is no surprise. This is just the way the NBA generally works. If a team fails, the coach takes the fall. But if the roster remains the same, or close to the same, the next guy on the sideline will likely meet the same fate.
Everyone is at the mercy of the team that LeBron James built, and James’ roster management skills are eroding. Vogel is just the latest collateral damage.
Follow Sam Amico’s NBA coverage @AmicoHoops