Outside of his current Cleveland Cavaliers teammate Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr. is one of the few players in the NBA that has both played for the Los Angeles Lakers and been on the same team as LeBron James.
That experience might make Nance more suited than anyone to relate to what James’ new Lakers teammates are about to experience, and Nance told James Walters of The Sunday Express that he’s already talked to a few of them about it:
Nance Jr says he’s spoken to his old Lakers team-mates, warning them they need to be focused at all times with James around.
“I’ve talked to them a little bit, I’m still very close with a couple of them,” he added.
“I’ve told them to be at your best because he works so hard that it makes you want to work as hard.
“He’s a great north star to have for your team.”
All the stuff Nance noted about James as a motivator is great, but the part Walters paraphrased about having to stay focused might be most important in the short term, given what James has already said is going to happen to the nose of any teammates not paying attention.
But if the Lakers can avoid getting their noses broken by James’ passes, Nance made it sound like the Lakers are going to be in for an amazing experience:
“Personally, having played with him last year, I think his leadership qualities separate him from some of the other greats,” he said.
James being able to lead by making himself one of the guys was something Ray Allen also cited as one of his best qualities recently, and it will be interesting to see if this continues with a young Lakers team.
In the first year of James’ return to the Cavaliers, there were stories of how he felt like he had to change the culture of a young team and teach them about the professionalism necessary to win, something that wasn’t as necessary on the veteran-laden Miami Heat teams he won titles with Allen on.
The Lakers lie somewhere in the middle of those two worlds. They were a competitive team last year, if not a playoff one, winning 35 games amidst injuries to key players. The Cavaliers before James came home had won 33 games, but in a weak Eastern Conference compared to the strong Western Conference that the Lakers existed in last season.
The Lakers’ young core also appeared wise beyond their years last season, buying in on defense and developing some veteran habits and winning mentalities, meaning that James may not feel he has to fix as much in his return, and can go back to a leadership style where he doesn’t feel as much of a need to take over and can just lead by example. There also won’t be as much pressure to win this season as there was in a year the Cavaliers had just acquired a new Big Three and still hadn’t won a title in decades, something James told the team closest to his hometown he wanted to change in his homecoming letter.
James has said his goal is to win a title with the Lakers this year, but seemingly in the sense that it’s everyone’s goal to win a title every year, and not in the same desperate way that Cleveland needed one, so he might feel more content to actually have some fun with this young Lakers team again, even while trying to help take them back to the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
Basically, Nance is probably right that James is going to be a great leader for the Lakers this season, and given how self-motivated the Lakers’ young core seems to be, he may only have to lead by example like he did in Cleveland last year rather than feeling pressure to rebuild the Lakers’ culture from the ground up like he did in his first year back with the Cavaliers. But ultimately we don’t know what approach he’ll take, and it will be fascinating to watch how it all starts to unfold when training camp begins next week.
You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.