The Lakers Seem Serious About Making LeBron James a Center

Bryan Brandom
(Photo: Getty Images)

The Lakers’ moves since landing their biggest free-agent star ever have been … interesting.

Lance Stephenson, Rajon Rondo, JaVale McGee, and now Michael Beasley. LeBron James’ new squad has added a bunch of big personalities who are collectively low on shooting.

They also make for roster intrigue — won’t Beasley, Stephenson, and James eat into the minutes of promising youngsters Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, and Josh Hart? And won’t Rondo do the same for Lonzo Ball?

Yes, but less so if James plays extended minutes at center every game.

“We may not see this on day one, but the coaching staff is eager to see our version of the [Warriors’] Death Lineup with Lonzo [Ball], Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram, [Kyle] Kuzma and LeBron,” a Lakers executive told Bleacher Report last week.

James’ shift to center always felt inevitable — as players grow stronger and slower with age, it’s fairly typical for them to slide up a position. James has always had the strength to bang with the big boys, and few classic centers should be able to keep up with James even when he reaches his early 40s.

And we know he hopes to play long enough to share the floor with his oldest son.

But at 33, James’ transition to the 5 spot is coming earlier than expected.

The biggest question regarding LeBron’s playing center comes on defense. James can be a historically great defender when he wants to be. But that was infrequent last season, when he carried the Cavaliers’ offense. And center is the position most crucial to a team’s defensive success.

That could explain the Lakers’ desire for more playmakers who need the ball in their hands to be successful, like Rondo and Stephenson, allowing James to focus his energy elsewhere. 

The Lakers have three pure centers on their roster, but none whom you’d consider a starting caliber player, yet: McGee, who hasn’t averaged more than 12 minutes per game in the past four seasons; 21-year-old Ivica Zubac; and rookie Moritz Wagner.

Every player mentioned in the second paragraph is on a one-year deal. So this formula is hardly permanent.

But the Lakers seem determined to experiment with James holding down the biggest position on the floor.

If it proves successful, expect future, more talented iterations of the Lakers to be constructed with that in mind.