Sports

'LeBron Is the Lakers' Biggest Problem': Stephen A. Smith Believes James Might No Longer Be the Best Player in the World

LeBron James might be the best basketball player of his generation but he’s also the Los Angeles Lakers’ biggest problem, at least according to Stephen A. Smith.

The ESPN Radio host and television personality suggested age, attrition and the lingering effect of the longest injury layoff of his career were taking their toll on the 15-time All-Star.

“The biggest problem with the Los Angeles Lakers is LeBron James,” Smith said on Tuesday on ESPN’s First Take.

“We have got to stop calling LeBron James the best player in the world. We’ve got to stop that right now.”

The four-time MVP missed 17 consecutive games after suffering a groin injury on Christmas Day in a road win against the Warriors and there are concerns he might not be fully fit yet.

The Lakers won just six games with LeBron and have lost six out of nine since his return. Smith indicated the 34-year-old was clearly still feeling the impact of his injury.

“LeBron James is obviously great. […] What I’m primarily saying about him not being the best player in the world right now is because LeBron James is not 100 percent healthy.

“Age, attrition or injury, something is not right. He doesn’t look like himself.”

On Monday night, the three-time NBA champion criticized some of his teammates after a 110-105 loss to the Grizzlies in Memphis dealt the Lakers another setback in their bid to reach the playoffs.

James suggested that players who lacked the mental strength required to cope with the pressure of reaching the postseason were at “the wrong franchise.”

LeBron’s supporting cast has repeatedly be a cause for concern this season. The Lakers have a roster combining a talented but inconsistent young core with a series of journeymen on short-term contracts.

Against Memphis, Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram combined for 56 points, but the Lakers had nothing from their second unit. Six players came off the bench to combine for a pitiful seven points.

Of the Lakers’ promising young players, Kuzma and Ingram are averaging 19.1 and 17.2 points per game this season, respectively. Josh Hart is chipping in with 8.1 points per game and Lonzo Ball was averaging 9.9 points per game before his injury on January 19.

However, that was not enough to offset LeBron’s absence and the situation hasn’t improved after his return.

Smith, however, pointed out the roster’s deficiencies were well known when LeBron swapped Cleveland for Los Angeles last summer and that a fully fit James would have found a way around the problem.

“LeBron James has overcome lesser roster,” he added.

“I’m watching this team perform and regardless of the inconsistencies and the inability to shoot the basketball, tell me one thing you’re seeing that was not anticipated.

“What we didn’t anticipate is that LeBron James would look less than what we know LeBron James to be.”

With 22 games left in the season, the Lakers are 11th in the Western Conference standings, three games behind the San Antonio Spurs, who currently occupy the final playoff berth.

Four of Los Angeles’ next five games are at home, beginning with the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday night and the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday. A trip to Phoenix is then followed by matchups against the Los Angeles Clippers, Denver Nuggets and the Boston Celtics.

The five-game stretch could go a long way in determining whether the Lakers will reach the postseason for the first time since 2013.

LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers LeBron James, #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers watches the ball during the first half against the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center on January 31 in Los Angeles, California. Harry How/Getty Images

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