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NBA insider explains why Lebron James is source of Los Angeles Lakers struggles: ‘Defensively he’s a nightmare’

lebron james, los angeles lakers
Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

While Darvin Ham has taken a lot of heat for why Lebron James and the Los Angeles Lakers have again struggled this season, one leading NBA insider believes their reliance on the aging legend is at the heart of their continued problems.

The Lakers have officially hit the midway point of their season and for the second straight year, the team nears the NBA trade deadline barely holding on to a playoff spot in the Western Conference. While it was a surprising place to be in 2022-23, it is even more concerning this season since this is the same group that went all the way to the conference finals last year.

Related: Los Angeles Lakers’ Darvin Ham has surprising take on NBA trade deadline

In recent weeks, head coach Darvin Ham has taken a lot of the blame for LA’s 20-21 record as he has reportedly rubbed many players the wrong way as he endlessly adjusts his rotations in search of a winning recipe. The team’s disappointing play has led to speculation that he is on the hot seat already in his second season and about potential moves before the trade deadline.

However, FOX Sports NBA insider Ric Bucher doesn’t believe the majority of the blame should be on Ham or general manager Rob Pelinka for not landing another star player recently. Instead, the veteran reporter who has covered the sport for over 30 years believes Lebron James is the real problem with the Lakers right now.

Ric Bucher: Lebron James is ‘not the same player and it’s okay to admit that’

“I’m one of the few who seem to be willing to say it,” Bucher recently told Sportsnaut. “Lebron James’ offensive numbers look great. It’s a testament to how smart he is, his IQ, and finding ways to score. He’s shooting three-pointers at a higher percentage than he ever has. [But] that’s not making everybody else better. That’s getting him his buckets.

“Defensively he’s a nightmare. Go back and watch the Toronto game [from Jan. 9]. For the first three quarters, he was on Scottie Barnes. He wasn’t contesting his threes, he wasn’t doing anything. Then in the fourth quarter, they had Anthony Davis guarding Scottie Barnes.”

For much of his career, James was an elite defender and earned All-NBA honors six times. Yet, that is no longer the case as the long-time small forward who could guard point guards has transitioned to the role of an undersized power forward. Along with a decline in his outstanding playmaking skills, Bucher claims father time has finally taken hold of James, and that is okay to admit.

“I don’t say that as a criticism. He’s 39 years old,” Bucher says. “It’s amazing what he’s doing at 39 years old. I point that out, because for anybody who says ‘Lebron’s as good as he ever was,’ I’m like you’ve got to be out of your mind. There are three components that made him one of the best.

  • Lebron James stats (2023-24): 24.7 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 7.5 APG, 1.4 SPG

“One, because he could defend. Two, because he could make plays. And three, because he could score. I’m only seeing one of those on a consistent basis at this point. He shouldn’t be the same, he’s not the same, [and] it’s okay to admit that at this point,” he added. “But because he’s not the same, and the Lakers have always been so Lebron-centric since he got there, that’s at the heart of trying to make this work.”

Related: Los Angeles Lakers digging into trade for star All-NBA defender

Lebron James and the Los Angeles Lakers face the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday at 8:30 PM ET on ESPN.

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