The Lakers showcased their depth in their season opener the other day, and the results were far from satisfactory. Perhaps it was because they faced the vaunted Nuggets, the National Basketball Association’s defending champions and their tormentors in the 2023 Western Conference Finals. And even as the dangers of making hasty judgments with 81 games still left in their schedule cannot be overstated, there can be no glossing over the loss, and, more importantly, the contributions — or, to be more precise, relative lack thereof — of erstwhile top dog LeBron James.
Make no mistake. James was nothing short of outstanding as he began his 21st season in unprecedented fashion. He scored 21 points (on 10-of-16 shooting from the field) along with eight rebounds, five assists, and one steal as the Lakers’ best player on the floor against the Nuggets. Surprisingly, however, he burned rubber for only 29 minutes — a notable departure from his predilection to see action as much as he can. In his post-match presser, he indicated that his court time will be strictly monitored; no doubt, it’s to preserve his soon-to-be-39-year-old body for the long haul.
Which is well and good. Unfortunately, the Lakers did little to prove their capacity to contend in his absence. Per the stat sheet, he was the only starter to have a positive plus-minus; per the eye test, the offense cratered without his direction. They will improve over time, to be sure, but they would need to win as well in the interim. Else, they could succumb to the temptation of chucking their plan to monitor his minutes — developed with his imprimatur and upon the recommendation of personal trainer Mike Mancias.
James loves to win. More importantly, he hates losing. He’s all in on the aim to lessen his load with one contest in the past, but if the setbacks pile up, he will have to resist the urge to do more until the matches really count. After all, he will not want a repeat of his immediate past campaign, when he nursed an injury and ran on fumes as the Lakers got swept from the playoffs. Move one step back now, take two steps forward when it matters. Patience is key, and how much he has may well determine his future.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and human resources management, corporate communications, and business development.