How LeBron James accidentally rebuilt the Los Angeles Lakers

MIAMI, FLORIDA - JANUARY 23: LeBron James #6 of the Los Angeles Lakers argues a foul call with referee Dedric Taylor #21 against the Miami Heat during the first half at FTX Arena on January 23, 2022 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FLORIDA - JANUARY 23: LeBron James #6 of the Los Angeles Lakers argues a foul call with referee Dedric Taylor #21 against the Miami Heat during the first half at FTX Arena on January 23, 2022 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

LeBron James is the reason why the Los Angeles Lakers won the 2020 NBA Championship. He is also the reason why they will not win another title this decade.

If the popular media narrative is to be believed, the Lakers have no future whatsoever. The mainstream media outlets at ESPN and Fox Sports are not telling you the full truth!

The Lakers are not just an old, washed-up team! The truth is while they are the oldest team in the NBA, their young players are now getting all the minutes.

Through amazing scouting and shrewd free agent signings, the Lakers have constructed a young roster that can sustain the Lakers’ success for years to come.

All because of LeBron James and Anthony Davis! They signed off on the trade for Russell Westbrook, which supposedly robbed the Lakers of their future.

Who in their right minds would accept this trade now?

Nobody knew what LeBron and AD were thinking when they signed off on this trade! Even Stevie Wonder could see Westbrook was not going to play well alongside LeBron or AD.

Maybe there is something else to the Westbrook move. Some insight into LeBron’s family can explain why he wanted Pelinka to trade for Westbrook.

His son Bronny’s favorite player is none other than Westbrook!

Like father, like son! Westbrook being Bronny’s favorite player is a huge deal! LeBron obviously sees something in Westbrook if his firstborn son feels that strongly about him.

We all remember LeBron’s meeting with Magic Johnson back in 2018. He chose playmakers over shooters – and ended up becoming the sole playmaker anyway. Pelinka was convinced that this time would be different.

He was wrong.

Why on earth would he think that LeBron would move off the ball for Westbrook? Did he not remember the time that LeBron told Magic he wanted to play off the ball and then proceeded to do the exact opposite?

And it gets worse! The Lakers whiffed on several more offseason moves in recent years (e.g. trading Ivica Zubac for Mike Muscala, the Dennis Schroder trade, etc.). They had to extensively scout fringe talent just to find enough players to fill out their roster.

The Lakers should have one of the darkest futures in the NBA. Against all odds, the Westbrook trade is the main reason why the Lakers’ future is in good hands.

The Westbrook trade has turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the Lakers.

Paying $44 million to Westbrook this season was the main reason why the Lakers lowballed Alex Caruso in free agency. Lakers owner Jeanie Buss did not feel as if bringing back Caruso at his market value (3 years, $30 million) would be cost-effective due to luxury tax concerns.

In other words, Buss was too cheap to keep Caruso. Lakers GM Rob Pelinka had to sign ring-chasing veterans and young players desperate to stay in the NBA on league-minimum deals just to fill out the roster.

Pelinka is in a tough bind. His last real trade asset is guard Talen Horton-Tucker, who at 21 has some potential. Unless he wants to trade a first-round pick in 2027 or 2028, THT will be moved within the next few seasons as soon as he plays as he did inside the bubble.

THT has been awful this season. The Lakers clearly don’t see him as part of their future. He was on the trade block ever since he signed that 3 year, $30 million contract this offseason.

Sacramento rejected an offer that would have sent Buddy Hield to the Lakers for THT and other players on expiring deals. Detroit wouldn’t even consider the Lakers’ best trade offer (THT, Kendrick Nunn, and the 2027 first-round pick) for their best player, Jerami Grant.

Miraculously, Pelinka found three players who better be on the Lakers for a long time. Thanks to the fallout of the Westbrook trade and the disastrous free-agent signings this offseason, these three guys are getting quality minutes on the Lakers.

Malik Monk

Only the Lakers were interested in signing Malik Monk this offseason. Monk was on LeBron’s radar as a key free-agent target. It was a miracle that Charlotte let him walk for nothing and that no other team was interested in signing him.

MUST-READ: Malik Monk was destined to be the next Lakers star

Monk’s skills are tantalizing at first glance: deadeye outside shooter, highlight-reel dunks and slick handles make him look like a future superstar.

What will actually make him into a star is his mastery of the little things. He needs to get to the free-throw line more often. He only takes 1.3 free throws per game this season.

His midrange game can also improve, shooting 41% when 5-14 feet away from the basket. Adding a floater to his arsenal would make him far more deadly in the half-court.

Monk has the potential to become the Lakers’ next superstar for years to come. The Lakers were definitely missing his offensive firepower against Charlotte, his former team.

Austin Reaves

Austin Reaves scored a meaningful 16 points against Charlotte – not bad after his dreadful performance against Philadelphia, where he looked like a normal rookie having a bad night.

Reaves has been awesome this season! He does all the little things (offensive rebounding, moving the ball on offense, closing out hard on shooters, etc.) so the stars can do the big things.

He had the most impactful two points I have ever seen from an NBA player when the Lakers defeated Brooklyn last Tuesday. He got four offensive rebounds and made it a point to find Malik Monk and Carmelo Anthony for open threes.

MUST-READ: Austin Reaves has been a bright spot amid the darkness

We all know the comparison! Reaves obviously followed Alex Caruso’s example when joining the Lakers, as he hints in an interview with Sports Illustrated.

"“He was very successful. Everybody knows. He made the right basketball play at all times. He did the right things and played as hard as he possibly could. That was something I wanted to do coming in.”"

Let me be clear: Austin Reaves is the original Austin Reaves, not the second coming of Alex Caruso. There are noticeable differences in their game.

Reaves thrives as a playmaker, offensive rebounder, and spot-up shooter when the game slows down. Caruso is a showstopper on fast break opportunities and is a tenacious help defender.

Their games are similar, not the same.

Stanley Johnson

The former lottery pick of the Detroit Pistons is the next Ron Artest! Like Artest, it took Johnson multiple teams to find his spot in the NBA. He fits perfectly alongside LeBron and AD in the Lakers front court as a defensive specialist.

MUST-READ: Stanley Johnson is the next great Los Angeles Lakers forward

Johnson is willing to guard anyone at any time. He has never complained even though he is being asked to guard opposing post players.

He even walked in from the street to guard James Harden on Christmas Day. The refs ruined an epic rematch by calling two quick fouls on Johnson to start the game. However, Johnson’s relentless ball pressure and physical play is exactly what the Lakers need.

He has six fouls. Why not use them?

Conclusion: the Lakers have found three great young players with real potential!

LeBron James has long favored veterans as his type of role player. Veterans are a known commodity; young players are unproven. Come playoff time, LeBron knows exactly who he can depend on to fill each role on the team.

Relying on veterans makes sense when you are in championship-or-bust mode, which LeBron has been in that position for the last 15 years.

With that mindset, young players have never been his preference. The Monk-Reaves-Johnson trio might change LeBron’s mind to give the young guys a chance.

This play encapsulates how the Monk-Reaves-Johnson trio contributes on offense.

This play was beautiful! Give credit to Russell Westbrook for not forcing a 1-on-4 driving lane and instead feeding the hot hand!

But here is how LeBron’s new supporting cast made this all happen!

  • Stanley Johnson set a perfect flare screen on Monk’s man to setup a wide-open three
  • Austin Reaves, stationed deep in the corner, forced his man Patty Mills to stay in the paint as Reaves is known for his baseline cuts
  • Malik Monk knocked that shot with no hesitation whatsoever

They supposedly mortgaged the Lakers’ future when they traded for Westbrook. But nobody knew who exactly was the Lakers’ future. It turned out it was the unheralded guys all along.

Nobody would have expected that the Lakers have found four key pieces – all younger than 26 years old – in the NBA’s scrap heap.

None of these young players who have emerged as key pieces for the future would have ever made the Lakers rotation if Lakers GM Rob Pelinka made the “smart” offseason moves.

And on this Lakers team: the younger players are doing a much better job right now. LeBron’s handpicked veterans have simply not gotten the job done consistently.

dark. Next. 50 greatest Lakers of all-time

So why not roll with these young guys?