One of the most oft-made observations about LeBron James signing with the Los Angeles Lakers was how his mere presence on the roster would help young players like Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart, Moe Wagner and Svi Mykhailiuk.
Not only will James take pressure off of those players on the court by drawing the rapt attention of opposing defenses, but he’ll also be able to lead both by words and by example, something we’ve already seen several instances of this summer.
Kuzma revealed that James is beating the rest of the young core to the practice facility regularly, something Lakers owner Jeanie Buss said that she’s seen already motivating the team to work harder.
Mykhailiuk has also said that he’s excited to learn from James, and James said on the Chinese television station CCTV that he thinks that type of mindset is even more critical to the team than anything he has the ability to teach them:
“I think more importantly than what I need to share with the younger guys, I think what a lot of people are missing is how hungry for knowledge that the young guys are.
“Kuz and Zo and Josh Hart, and Brandon Ingram, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Slavi (Editor’s Note: I think he meant Svi Mykhailiuk) and Moe Wagner, we have young guys that are extremely excited not only about playing the game, but also learning the game. That’s going to help out even more because those guys are just hungry for knowledge, so I’m looking forward to that.”
This isn’t the first time James has said he’s excited to play with all of his new teammates, but it is notable that he already thinks that the team is excited to learn.
We covered this yesterday, but one of the early things to watch this season is going to be whether or not James feels the need to come in and overhaul the Lakers’ culture like he did in his return to Cleveland, or if he feels more like he did with the Miami Heat, where he was able to lead by example on a team of similarly motivated and professional players.
The above quote would seem to indicate he feels like the Lakers are closer to the latter situation, and that the team has already shown him that they are players who want to learn, who don’t have to be housebroken like new puppies and are instead eager to show him they can contribute, and seeking for knowledge on how to do so.
That’s a lot different from a Cavaliers situation in which there were literally multiple accounts of James essentially having to parent his teammates by picking up their dirty laundry. I am somehow not kidding (via the great Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated):
On Nov. 17, James missed a shootaround before a game against the Nuggets because he was sick, and the Cavaliers acted as if their teacher ditched school. They tossed dirty gear onto the locker room floor, ignoring the hamper in the middle of the room. Equipment manager Mark Cashman took a picture of the slop and after practice the next day showed it to the group. “I’ve worked here 15 years,” Cashman says, “and that was the maddest I’ve ever been.”
After Cashman tore into the team, James provided a graphic exclamation point. Cashman was transported to 2003, when James was a rookie and Cleveland played the second night of a preseason back-to-back in St. John’s, Newfoundland. The Cavs landed in St. John’s at 5 a.m. and were scheduled to face the Raptors in front of a sellout crowd that night. But shortly before tip-off at an arena that housed a minor league hockey team, officials noticed condensation from the ice on the court. The game was canceled, the Cavs were sent to their bus, and irritated players flung jerseys and shorts in Cashman’s direction. James handed him a neatly folded uniform. “I didn’t have a lot growing up,” he explained to Cashman then. “I have to take care of it.”
Picking up laundry obviously has very little to do with basketball — if anything at all — but in this context of James valuing professionalism, it shouldn’t go unnoticed that he already feels as though the Lakers don’t need him to lecture them, and that they’re coming to him to learn.
There were a lot of times last year when it was asked why James would want to go to a young, unproven Lakers team, and just as James’ Hollywood connections and family reasons to want to live in L.A. can’t be ignored, neither can the fact that he already sees willing and eager pupils in the young Lakers.
You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.