Along with the multitude of advantages that come with having a player of the caliber of LeBron James as your teammate also come the internal and external pressures of living up to those towering expectations.
For the Los Angeles Lakers’ young core, this is a lesson they will learn firsthand as they enter the new season with James suited up beside them, and during the prerequisite days leading up to their opener against the Portland Trailblazers.
“I’m not really sure,” he told The Athletic while making an appearance for an event hosted by Fanatics at the NBA Store. “I haven’t really played with him before. I couldn’t really give you an answer about that right now.”
In a technical sense, Kuzma is right that he hasn’t played a single minute beside James yet to properly gauge an opinion, and is seemingly choosing to downplay the expected adjustment period he and his young teammates will experience this season.
The 23-year-old Flint native also suggested that there may in fact not be much of a “difference” in the intensity of attention considering the contextual circumstances he played within last season:
“I played in L.A. last year,” he said. “That’s a lot of spotlight being a Laker. So I don’t really see a difference.”
Drafted 27th overall in the 2017 NBA draft, Kuzma outwardly embraced and thrived in the warm spotlight that Los Angeles had to offer in route to his selection to the All NBA rookie first-team.
And although there is merit in Kuzma’s point regarding the prior work experience the young core already has with playing for a marquee franchise like the Los Angeles Lakers, it is difficult to properly compare it with the new on-court goals any team with James on it innately possesses.
Last season, the Lakers’ priorities were to both continue to develop their prospects but also be competitive enough to be able to attract the level of free agent of James’ caliber, and they obviously succeeded, yet there was never an instance where they were in serious contention.
Once the bright lights hit this October, the days of moral victories will be gone, and the national media outlets who will be quick to scrutinize the team — and it’s young players — if things go awry.
In the most simple terms, games will now matter. The Lakers are no longer only trying to prove that they belong in this league, but rather to prove they can be a part of a winning culture.
While there is optimism to be had in the fact that the young core initially does not foresee James’ arrival coming with any level of external burden, the group does need to prepare themselves for the definite added competitiveness of games that are tied with playoff implications.
There is undoudtedly going to be an obvious and expected wait and see approach for how quickly the the team assimilates themselves with James this upcoming season, but for Kuzma, who may arguably be the most vocal and confident of the team’s young players, there seems to be an eagerness and readiness in accepting the challenge. At the very least, that’s a positive sign.
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