LOS ANGELES — The last time LeBron James missed the playoffs, the iPhone and Twitter weren’t invented yet, so to call him and the Los Angeles Lakers being all but eliminated from postseason contention with 16 games left to play a massive disappointment for himself, the organization and their fanbases would be an understatement.
But while most have focused on what went wrong to leave the Lakers in this spot, it was interesting to listen to James opine on where they go from here after the team’s 120-107 loss to the Boston Celtics on Saturday. How will he approach the rest of the season, and what is left to do? It’s not an easy question, and James will have to figure it out on the fly, but he’s already started thinking about how he’ll lead the team’s young players the rest of the way.
”You continue to try to lead them as much as you can. Both on the fly and on off days in the film room,” James said. “Every day is another opportunity for them to learn and experience. You have to be very patient. They haven’t experienced a lot of this game, there’s a lot of things that’s new to them.
“They have to learn it on the fly, but I think the best teacher in life is experience,” James continued. “It’s challenging, but I kind of knew what I was getting myself into.”
This outcome, however unlikely it was, is exactly why so many around the NBA community raised their eyebrows when James decided to take his talents to Los Angeles and a team coming off of five consecutive lottery seasons.
Sure, the Lakers seemed to have a plan in place, cap space and some promising young players, but when they weren’t able to use the rest of their cap room on a second superstar to pair with James, missing the playoffs was a possibility — doubly so given the lack of shooting on this roster after the front office attempted to zig where others have zagged and put playmakers instead of shooters around James.
However, to be fair, even if that strategy was probably bad process, James is transcendent enough that it might have worked anyway if he hadn’t missed a career-high 18 games in a row with a groin injury.
“I didn’t expect to be out five and a half weeks at a crucial point in our season, and we also didn’t expect our other brain of the team to be out five and a half weeks,” James said, and before you get too excited, the “other brain” he was referring to is Rajon Rondo, not Lonzo Ball, as evidenced by the rest of his quote.
“We both got hurt at the same time (Christmas Day), and I just think it took a hit on our team at that point in time, which was a critical part going into the New Year,” James continued. “But other than that I think our young guys are very pure, they love to play the game. There’s just some things that they have to continue to learn, and we have to continue to be patient with them while they’re learning and take their bumps and bruises.”
James is right in that this team, given all its youth, was never going to hit its full ceiling in year one of his time in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, most of that young core he’s speaking of has either been declared out for the year (Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball) or is dealing with significant injuries right now (Josh Hart and Kyle Kuzma), and none of them are guaranteed to still be around when the fireworks from the upcoming summer fade. Basically, even if a few of them do get and stay out on the court, the Lakers may not reap the rewards from lessons they can learn the rest of the season.
Still, it’s encouraging long-term to hear James admit that he understood the season going off the rails was always a possibility, that he still seems at least somewhat enamored with his young teammates’ potential, and even wants to help them reach it over the last few games, no matter who is left on the floor.
As James’ former coach Ty Lue infamously said earlier this season before being fired by the Cleveland Cavaliers, “it’s not about wins and losses, it’s about wins and lessons.” The Lakers appear to have plenty of lessons to come yet, and it at least seems like James is focused on helping teach amidst all of them.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. All stats per NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.