LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The LeBron James-led Los Angeles Lakers will face the tough task of deciding whether to contend for a title this season or give their young core the on-court experience they need to develop as players, NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley said on Thursday.
James, who in July signed a four-year, $154 million contract with the Lakers, joins a roster that includes promising but untested players like 20-year-old Lonzo Ball, 21-year-old Brandon Ingram and 23-year-olds Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart.
But the Lakers have also surrounded the three-time NBA champion with veterans Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, Michael Beasley and Javale McGee.
Friction between the two groups will hurt team chemistry and hold the Lakers to at best the sixth playoff seed in the Western Conference before they get knocked out in the first round, Barkley told reporters on a conference call.
“They are going to have a lot of internal conflict,” said Barkley, who is now an analyst for broadcaster TNT.
“Are they an old team or a young team? Who is going to be playing? Are they trying to get these young guys ready for next year or are they going to try to win this year with those old guys. I think that’s going to create a lot of turmoil.”
Despite James himself saying the Lakers are a long way from challenging the Golden State Warriors, fellow analyst Kenny Smith said the Lakers are in “win now” mode.
“I don’t think you could ever have LeBron James and not try to win now,” he said of the former Cleveland Cavalier and Miami Heat forward, who has appeared in eight successive NBA Finals.
Fellow analyst Shaquille O’Neal agreed his former team was eyeing a championship this year but said the inexperience of the young players, as well the stacked Western Conference, would make that goal unattainable.
“I think they are going to try to win it now. They are not going to win. They are not going to beat Golden State or Houston,” he said.
“The young guys aren’t ready yet.”
For now, most expect Lakers coach Luke Walton’s starting lineup to include young guns Hart and Ingram alongside veterans Rondo, McGee and James.
The Lakers kick off their 2018-2019 campaign on Thursday with a trip to Portland to battle the Trail Blazers before hosting Houston on Saturday.
Editing by Greg Stutchbury