20. LeBron James as a Laker
As if we could start with anything else.
LeBron James’ decision to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers this summer upended the NBA’s conference hierarchy. For the past eight years, James’ squads have represented the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals, including four straight matchups with the Golden State Warriors.
This year, one of James or the Warriors will be sitting at home in mid-June.
How James fares with the Lakers will be perhaps the preeminent storyline of the 2018-19 season. Will young prospects such as Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart flourish alongside him? Will L.A.’s head-scratching free-agent signings — namely, Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, Michael Beasley and JaVale McGee — work out better than anticipated alongside the four-time MVP?
When James joined the Miami Heat in 2010 and then rejoined the Cleveland Cavaliers four years later, both of his squads got off to slow starts. He and his teammates needed time to grow acclimated with one another, which led to some early-season frustration bubbling over. While the Heat didn’t make any drastic midseason moves to shake up their roster, the Cavaliers did, shipping out Dion Waiters, two first-round picks and change for J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Timofey Mozgov.
If the Lakers get off to a slow start, will James pressure team president Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka to begin wheeling and dealing? Will the Lakers attempt to land their second star ahead of 2019 free agency, whether it’s Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler or someone else? The possibilities are endless, making the Lakers one of the NBA’s most captivating teams ahead of the 2018-19 campaign.