There’s no doubt that Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James makes his teammates better on the floor.
It’s quite rare to have a pass-first superstar these days, especially coming from someone as gifted as LeBron offensively. Several role players have found success under James’ watch, like his former Cleveland Cavaliers teammates J.R. Smith and Tristan Thompson, just to name a few.
However, not everyone gets to flourish while sharing the court with the three-time champ. Some players’ skill sets simply do not complement LeBron’s, while others just don’t do well without the ball on their hands for most possessions.
Young players often fall under this pit and often get traded away after not being a good fit under The King’s ruling.
Here are five young players whose careers got “ruined” by playing with LeBron James.
Ingram had a promising first two seasons in the league and pundits thought he’ll take that next step to stardom upon James’ arrival to the Lakers in the 2018-19 season.
Some believed Ingram could have played a similar role as to Dwyane Wade’s during James’ Big 3 era with the Miami Heat. Others were simply reaching when they thought the James-Ingram pairing could be akin to the Jordan-Pippen terror wing-tandem.
Instead, the Duke-product regressed in his third year. His scoring upped a bit, particularly when LeBron sat out for a while due to a groin injury. But when the pair shared the floor, Ingram was quite passive and couldn’t find what his true role was. The 6-foot-7 forward was reduced to a catch-and-shoot type player, when he was clearly more comfortable looking for his own shot.
The Lakers figured in yet another losing year and Ingram was shipped to the New Orleans Pelicans as part of the Anthony Davis blockbuster. It’s no coincidence that Ingram finally emerged into an All-Star just a year after leaving LeBron’s shadow.
Waiters was blossoming into a legitimate star in the Cavs first post-Lebron era. He was an effortless scorer in his first two seasons in the league and even boldly proclaimed himself as the next D-Wade. That all changed once he was downgraded to third-option on offense upon James’ return to Cleveland in 2014.
Instead of thriving with the more open looks he now gets, Waiters’ shooting clip drastically fell alongside James. He only shot 40.4 percent from the field, while his 3-pointers dropped to a putrid 25.6 percent.
The Cavs management did not wait for him to get used to James, as they traded Waiters to the Oklahoma City Thunder midway through the season.
Another young stud greatly affected by James’ move to Hollywood was the team’s point guard at the time Lonzo Ball. James simply made him expendable — as LeBron pretty much provided everything Ball gives at a much higher rate.
Since he was no longer in charge of primary playmaking duties, Ball’s limited offensive repertoire was greatly exposed. Although his defense was a great asset for the Lakers, Ball’s lack of consistent shooting made him a liability around James, who was used to being surrounded by shooters.
Ball was shipped to NOLA alongside Ingram, and is now enjoying a career-year shooting the Ball. If only he had improved much earlier, maybe Ball could have still been playing for his hometown right now.
Kuzma might still have a chance to prove that he can play with LeBron if the 2019-20 season continues at some point. After two impressive seasons, Kuz is now struggling to fit in with the team’s current championship-seeking ensemble.
Kuzma’s biggest issue is he plays the same position as James. His lackluster defense and rebounding don’t help his case at all and it doesn’t make sense for coach Frank Vogel to keep him on the floor for extended minutes.
Kuzma’s proficient 3-point accuracy should have been his saving grace, but he is only making 29.7 percent of his attempts in 54 games this season.
Despite a lesser role off the bench, Kuz is still the team’s third-leading scorer (12.5) and was spared from trades during the deadline.
It might seem crazy that Napier is on this list given he didn’t even get a chance to play alongside James. The pair, however, share a history together when James called Napier his favorite player of the 2014 draft.
The Heat went on to orchestrate a trade with the Charlotte Hornets to acquire his rights on draft day. James was a free agent at the time and Miami thought they could entice James to stay in South Beach following the move. The King, however, bolted for the Cavs that summer.
Getting James’ approval might have been the worst thing for Napier since he was hyped more than he should have been. No doubt Napier had skills, but he was unfairly given high expectations since James spoke highly of him.
The U-Conn product never lived up to the hype and struggled mightily in his one-and-done season with Miami. Adding insult to injury, LeBron was no longer there to help Napier transition to the pros and he was later shipped to the Orlando Magic.