The 2018-19 Lakers season hasn’t gone the way that we’ve wanted it to, and the Blame Game has begun. LeBron James made recent comments criticizing the team’s sense of urgency, critiques he directed at those who’ve marinated in a losing environment for too long, without playoff experience.
James, Rajon Rondo, and JaVale McGee all have championship rings, Lance Stephenson has gone deep in the playoffs on multiple occasions, and Reggie Bullock and Michael Muscala have been here for five minutes. None of them were on the team before this season, so the likely targets of James’ criticism are Luke Walton, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart, and perhaps even an injured Lonzo Ball.
James is arguably the greatest player ever to lace them up, sporting three NBA titles and eight consecutive trips to the Finals. Rondo’s won a ring, and he’s regarded as one of the smartest players in the NBA. Even McGee picked up titles with the Golden State Warriors the last two seasons. The young Lakers players haven’t done squat by comparison.
Turmoil has a way of making people turn on each other, and the power differential between James, Walton, and the Lakers’ young players is stark. They’re the weakest members of the proverbial wolf pack, and the first to be targeted with criticism when things go wrong, accuracy be damned.
And while there are plenty of valid criticisms of Ingram, Kuzma, Ball, and Hart, this just isn’t really one of them, especially when it’s contrasted with the effort level the veterans:
The same dynamic existed before James came here, where young players like D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle were prematurely written off by an organization and fanbase that wasn’t used to the slow slog of rebuilding. Rotted fruit from the Tree of Lakers Exceptionalism is nothing new.
However, LeBron James isn’t great just because he’s LeBron James, any more than the Lakers are great just because they’re the Lakers. Both have their reputations as a result of staggering successes that serve as the foundation for their credibility.
But the past belongs in museums, and none of the veteran’s accomplishments matter if they don't apply the lessons they’ve learned to the here and now. They need to increase their effort level more than anyone. If not, they’ll be telling stories of playoffs’ past rather than participating in them.