With a win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday, the Los Angeles Lakers improved to 5-7 without LeBron James. While that might not sound all that impressive — because it really isn’t — it’s the best any team has done without James for the greater half of this decade.
In the 27 regular season games the Cleveland Cavaliers played without James from 2014 to 2018, the Cavs went 4-23. Both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were available for 17 of those games.
The Lakers don’t have an Irving or a Love, but they do have an exciting collection of young talent that has been working tirelessly to try and prove they can compete now, not later.
In an interview with Sam Amick of The Athletic, Lakers head coach Luke Walton said he’s enjoying the process of watching the young guys grow up on the fly:
“With the young guys, I love watching them figure stuff out. You work on things, and watching them grow as players, watching them go from young men coming into the league where life’s about one thing and it’s nice to have some money and it’s nice to do whatever, and then flip that switch where they’re texting me clips at night of ‘Hey, what should we have done differently with this defensive play?”
This backs up just about everything we’ve heard from the veterans in the locker room this season. In October, Rajon Rondo said he has never been around a team that is as dedicated to watching film as the Lakers are.
“I love our young guys and their commitment, the way they study the game, their willingness to learn,” Rondo said. “I was telling ‘Bron today, we were on the plane and I’ve never seen damn near 12 guys watching film as a team. I haven’t seen that many guys combined in my last four or five seasons out there as a team. It was very refreshing to see and understand this team and its commitment.”
To Rondo’s credit, he’s been a big part of that culture shift.
There might be teams with more raw, young talent than the Lakers around the league, but their obsession with wanting to improve is what’s going to set them apart from the rest. Let’s hope is starts translating to more wins sooner rather than later.