That quote from LeBron James sent shockwaves through the Los Angeles Lakers fanbase. What might it mean? Was James’ patience wearing thin with the kids? Did Luke Walton not meet his expectations? Well, if what Brian Windhorst of ESPN is reporting is true, we might have the beginnings of our answer to those questions.
James has a certain brand of basketball that he prefers playing. It’s slow, methodical, and features him with the ball as often as possible. It all makes sense given his various talents and how tremendous he is at those things, so as much as Walton might have wanted a free-wheeling, run-and-gun style of play, he can’t control how the guys on the court actually play, as some anonymous scouts pointed out to Windhorst:
The scouts also have noticed that when James is running the point, he rarely looks toward the bench to receive playcalls from coach Luke Walton. Even when he has seen them, the scouts say, he ignores them and runs the play he prefers. Walton has adjusted, and now when James is running the show, Walton will typically just let him call the game. This probably shouldn’t be considered a slight -- it’s just James being James.
That qualifier about this not being a slight of Walton aside, what this makes clear is that it’s a helluva lot easier for someone like James to say they're willing to forego how they’ve played for their whole career before the games start or when things are going well. But it’s when people encounter adversity that they tend to show or revert to their true nature.
To this point, on the season, the Lakers have played with a pace of 104.39 with James on the court. Over the last six games, though (since Rajon Rondo broke his hand), that number has dipped to just over 100. Given how poorly the Lakers execute in the halfcourt, this is probably the foundation of a lot of their recent issues.
The Lakers haven’t played well since Rondo’s injury, and it should come as no surprise this report drops not necessarily as a result, but not coincidentally, either.
Where things get tricky here is that this roster was put together in the hopes that LeBron would live up to his word and grant some creative responsibilities not only to Walton as he designed an offense, but to those he shares the court with. If this was going to be the result all along, then the Lakers should have focused on surrounding James with the shooters he’s grown accustomed to playing with anyway. Playmakers are only so useful if they're just standing in the corner watching James make plays.
As things stand, not including James, only Rondo is shooting better than 40 percent from three-point range. Josh Hart is close at 39 percent, but things get fairly ugly from there. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has shot better recently, but he’s still only at 31 percent; Kyle Kuzma is still ice-cold to start the year at 29 percent. These were the guys who were supposed to provide whatever little spacing the Lakers were hoping to come by, but if they aren’t hitting consistently, the Lakers simply don’t have the shooting elsewhere to make up for that.
All this said, there still is plenty of time to turn things around if LeBron can buy back in (or maybe even if he doesn't). 20 games is enough to have a decent sample size and understand what’s best for the team moving forward, if Walton can make those adjustments and the team can get to some of the things that made them successful pre-Rondo-injury (i.e. running).
Until then, though, the Lakers are going to continue to trudge along, winning ugly or losing outright, at James’ preferred pace.