El Segundo — The Los Angeles Lakers obviously didn’t get off to the start of the season they were hoping for when they lost their first game of the LeBron James era to the Portland Trail Blazers. But the team is also aware that such a newly formed roster is going to take time to come together, or as James is fond of saying, that chemistry isn’t instant oatmeal.
But while James may want to win a championship this season, way back in July, he also said that the main thing he was looking for this season wasn’t what happened at the end of the road, but that the Lakers were building the “championship habits” necessary to get there.
“You guys know me when it comes to championship habits, that doesn’t mean you bring a championship, but it does mean you practice excellence every day,” James told reporters then. “I expect that not only from myself but from my teammates.”
But what exactly is James expecting when he says that? The term “championship habits” is a little nebulous, and can mean different things to different people. For Lakers center and two-time NBA champion JaVale McGee, whether or not a team or player has championship habits can be defined by answering a few key questions.
“Are you in the gym every day? Are you lifting every day? Are you eating the right things? Are you hydrating?” McGee asked. “Is your mind right? Are you good at home?
“Stuff like that really plays key factors in your performance, so being able to balance all of those things is also part of a championship mindset.”
Young teams aren’t always known for practicing those types of habits, and in many cases it takes veterans to come in and teach them. Lakers guard Josh Hart says James is already doing that.
“He’s talking to us and making sure we’re working on those championship habits,” Hart said. “He knows more than anybody that those little habits and attention to detail can change the outcome of games.”
How is James preaching and teaching those things? According to Hart, it’s both by espousing their value, and doing them himself.
Even in practice.
“He does things by example, he doesn’t just sit out. He’s the best player in the world, he can sit out any drill he really wants to, but he’s out there competing every day,” Hart said. “He’s our vocal leader but he goes out there and doesn’t just talk, he does it by example.”
And while there is no reason to doubt that having arguably the best player of all time to learn from in word and in deed is a great thing for the young Lakers — as is having other veterans around like McGee and Rajon Rondo — McGee also wants people to know that his new young teammates shouldn’t be sold short. He says they were doing a lot of things it takes to win before the Lakers’ new crop of veterans had a chance to make an imprint on them.
”These young guys are focused, we see it. We get here, they’re here before us,” McGee said. “I don’t want to sit here and act like we’re just teaching the young guys everything and they don’t know anything. These young guys are very experienced and they work extremely hard.”
McGee also has confidence that the young Lakers will keep grinding, because ultimately, whether one is talking about “championship habits” or “winning a championship,” teams can’t have one without the other. Whether the bar is the former or the latter, every player that steps out on an NBA floor — especially on a team with James — has the same goal in mind, even if it’s going to remain unsaid for now.
“They know what can happen this year if we all are on the same page. They get it, and they’re extremely focused,” McGee said.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats per NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.