There has been a noticeable lack of LeBron James discourse lately because the Los Angeles Lakers forward has been bench-ridden due to an abdominal injury. His team, unsurprisingly, has been struggling in his absence. Led by Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook, the Lakers have gone 3-3 since LeBron's injury, capped off by an embarrassing 18-point loss to the Chicago Bulls last night.
While we shouldn't be too quick to pile on Los Angeles' performances without their best player, the holes in the roster around LeBron have become even more clear while he's sidelined. Davis is great on both ends of the court but isn't suited to carry a team to victory every single night and Westbrook remains the exact same, with spates of greatness separated by bouts of brutal turnovers and boneheaded errors. The rest of the rotation is pretty bad unless Carmelo Anthony is shooting the lights out.
It's still very early and there's a lot of time to figure out these problems, but the Lakers' struggles sans LeBron do not inspire much faith in the roster's ability to make a deep playoff run. This is the third time in the last four seasons LeBron has missed weeks at a time due to injury. When he's on the court, he's as good as ever, but these injuries give us a sliver of a glimpse at LeBron's mortality. As his body suffers more wear-and-tear, can he carry a flawed roster like this Lakers team to the Finals like he has in the past?
Stephen A. Smith does not believe so and explained why on First Take today.
Smith's argument has less to do with how good LeBron is and more about the powerhouses that also reside in the Western Conference. The Lakers have a lot of talent but that talent does not mesh particularly well and it is very reasonable to wonder if they can figure it out in time to execute in the playoffs, when everything is put under a microscope.
The window is closing for The King, as hard as it is to grasp. He's 36-years-old. The Lakers are in perpetual win-now mode but their latest offseason of moves robbed them of nearly all the young talent on the roster and severely limited their flexibility going forward. If the Westbrook experiment does not work, it'll be very hard for Los Angeles to pivot. LeBron cannot afford any more lost years like last season. As immortal as LeBron seems, the twilight of his career is rapidly approaching.
Which means now, more than ever, the question is if this Lakers team as currently constructed can win it all. You'll have a hard time convincing anybody they can after the last two weeks. It's a long season, but Smith's claim isn't nearly as bold as it seems here.