After the Los Angeles Lakers lost to the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday night, LeBron James appeared to have had it with the team not coming out with urgency, with the subtext of his comments directed at people who had been with the team over the last several years.
“The last few years, everyone’s so accustomed to the losses that I’m just not accustomed to. I’m not accustomed to it, I’d never get comfortable with losing,” James told reporters as part of his extensive thoughts on the state of the team. “How many know what’s at stake if you’ve never been there?”
While James couched his criticism by saying that he wasn’t “saying that’s what we are as a whole,” he still added that “it kind of looks that way at times.”
Despite it being possible to read that criticism as in part directed at Lakers head coach Luke Walton, one of the few holdovers who James is implying might be used to losing from the last few years, Walton told reporters at the team’s Monday morning shootaround that he sees some of the same things from the Lakers at times:
Luke, continued: " It’s definitely something as a group, being a new team together and relying on a lot of young players, that’s new. We’re learning. ...It won’t be perfect, but we’ll continue to come out and get better and we’ll see if we can’t make some noise down the stretch."— Kyle Goon (@kylegoon) February 25, 2019
Walton is right about experience being the best way to learn at times, but it’s also worth pointing out that the Lakers with the least experience haven’t necessarily been the entire problem, either, something our own Pete Zayas (aka Laker Film Room) highlighted in some recent posts:
This is how many points better/worse the Lakers are per 100 possessions when a player is on the floor this season. (min. 500 minutes played)— Laker Film Room (@LakerFilmRoom) February 24, 2019
LeBron = +7.4
Chandler = +5.6
Hart = +4.7
Zu = +3.0
Zo = +1.3
Kuz = +1.2
BI = +0.2
KCP = -4.1
Rondo = -4.5
McGee = -4.9
Lance = -6.2
None of this is to absolve Walton, or the Lakers’ youngsters, but just to point out that no one is totally blameless here, and certainly not the players who simply happen to have more experience on an NBA floor. That’s not to say such experience is valueless, but it also (clearly) isn’t making things much better for the Lakers in a strictly basketball sense.
This goes back to a pretty common trope found throughout NBA history (and the history of sports in general): Veteran players and coaches generally prefer to play with or coach veteran players, even if there are more promising or higher-upside younger options. Inject a coach or a star like James with truth serum and give them the choice between a vet or a higher-upside (but lower downside) younger option, and they’ll take the hypothetical older player with a higher floor but lower ceiling almost every time.
Ultimately people see what they want to see with stuff like this. While some might watch the Lakers and note that players like Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram are producing pretty well offensively while veterans like Rajon Rondo get blown by in transition by centers, others might see the mistakes the young Lakers make on defense and note that Rondo ran some actions correctly on offense, even if they didn’t work.
Neither side will always be 100 percent right, but most have already reached their conclusion by the time they watch anyway, and let the psychological phenomenon known as “confirmation bias,” which Psychology Today defines as follows, take over from there:
Once we have formed a view, we embrace information that confirms that view while ignoring, or rejecting, information that casts doubt on it. Confirmation bias suggests that we don’t perceive circumstances objectively. We pick out those bits of data that make us feel good because they confirm our prejudices. Thus, we may become prisoners of our assumptions.
Does that not sound like a good reason for how nearly all of us can come away from the same loss to the Pelicans — or any other loss this year — with wildly different conclusions? Everyone does this, so pointing it out isn’t to say Walton and James are wrong while those who believe differently are right. It’s just to say that everyone on earth is prone to sometimes simply seeing what they want to see.
There is also the possibility that Walton just didn’t want to disagree with his best player, or that the question was phrased in such a way that he sort of agreed with the premise while trying to refocus on how he thinks the whole team can be better.
There is a ton of context that goes into all of these things, and all we can really know for sure is that whoever is most to blame for the Lakers’ struggles — whether you believe it to be the veterans, the young players, LeBron, the front office or Walton — all of them have to be better moving forward if the team wants to make the playoffs. We’ll soon see if they can be.