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Does James make the Lakers a contender in the West?

Image licensed from USA Today Sports

LeBron James signed a four-year, $154 million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday. He heads to a team that was 35-47 and that finished in 11th place in the Western Conference.

How does this shake up the Western Conference?

From a betting perspective, the move changes the NBA in both conferences. Cleveland now goes from one of the favorites to win the Eastern Conference to an afterthought. They have moved to a 100-1 shot to win in the NBA Finals at Vegas Insider and +40000 at Bovada.
The Lakers have advanced to a +350 favorite to win the NBA Championship at Bovada, right behind Golden State (+105) and a 4-1 favorite at Vegas Insider (Warriors are 3/2).

Do they have enough to win it all?

The Lakers added guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, wing Lance Stephenson and center JaVale McGee after signing James. Those players are not enough to put the Lakers over the top. In fact, with Chris Paul back with Houston, the Rockets should be the second-favorite in the West, depending on whether they can re-sign center Clint Capela. The Rockets also lost veteran small forward Trevor Ariza to Phoenix in free agency and that could be a devastating loss in terms of finding a quality wing defender.

It's all about catching Golden State, and the Lakers don't have enough. Brandon Ingram should get a lot more open shots now and Lonzo Ball has star potential if he can find a jumper. Both are very young and after that, James has a bunch of role players led by Stephenson, young forward Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart.
Will they get Kawhii Leonard?

They may get star Spurs forward Kawhii Leonard next season when they have the cap room and he's a free agent. But the league's top defensive player is trying to foce a deal from San Antonio and has hinted that he would sit out the 2018-19 season if the Spurs don't deal him. Yet, San Antonio is reportedly asking for three number one picks, which means nobody is going to take Leonard for one season at that price.

But if the Lakers find a way to get Leonard, even if they have to give up two No. 1's and a young player like Ball or Ingram, they could become the outright favorite in the West. If Leonard is 100% healthy, he takes some pressure off of James in terms of scoring and defense.

The LaVar Ball factor

Can LeBron James co-exist with Lonzo and LaVar Ball? Lonzo is not the big problem though James might prefer a better perimeter shooter from his point guard. As bad as Lonzo was in his first NBA season from the field (36%), three-point range (30.5%) and the free throw line (45.1%), he was much more competent in his only season at UCLA. In 2016-17, Ball averaged 14.6 points per game, shot 41.2 percent from 3-point range, 73.2 percent from inside the arc and 67.3 percent from the line. So he's capable, when looking at his college numbers, of improving those rookie NBA percentages with ease.

However, you have LaVar Ball, who will apparently be around and will not be chasing his younger sons around this season in Eastern Europe. Ball critiqued head coach Luke Walton last season, saying he "lost" the team. But this will not be Ball's team this season. Not Lonzo, LaVar and probably not Luke. The pressure will squarely be on Walton for the team to achieve out West but also on Lonzo to not consistently throw up 3-for-17 games and for LaVar to basically stay out of it. If he starts critiquing "the King", his son could be out faster than James punched a whiteboard after the Game 1 loss in the Finals to the Warriors.

Follow the moves

That's the bottom line to this NBA off-season. If you want to bet NBA Win Totals or championship odds right now, wait a little bit longer until Leonard, "Boogie" Cousins and Julius Randle amongst others are signed. If the value is right, you might want to take the Lakers to win the West, only if they get Leonard or maybe even Cousins. Personally, I'd rather look at the East and try to find value in a team like Philadelphia or even Milwaukee over the obvious favorite -Boston. As for the Lakers, James still needs help but he's content to be in the best situation for his family, even if not the ideal situation for him as a player.

Benjamin Hayes

Ben has been a sports writer for over 30 years, dabbling in college and pro basketball, college and pro football, baseball, college lacrosse, minor league baseball and even college gymnastics. He's also been involved in the gaming industry for over 25 years and has been looking to beat the books since he was 13!

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