The Los Angeles Lakers have had nearly innumerable issues this season, and the body language of LeBron James isn’t anywhere near the top of the list in terms of importance.
Still, it seems it was bothersome enough for his teammates that they felt it needed to be addressed in a players only meeting last month, as Dave McMenamin of ESPN reported in his sprawling recap of what went wrong for the Lakers this season:
On an off day in Memphis following a 128-115 loss to an Anthony Davis-less Pelicans team on Feb. 23, the LeBron James-led Lakers had their own air-it-out session. Rondo organized the players-only meeting to find “a better understanding of one another,” a team source told ESPN.
McMenamin reminds that this meeting came in the aftermath of James seeming to call out the younger Lakers in the media after the previous game in New Orleans, a loss to the Pelicans after which James asked “how many know what’s at stake if you’ve never been there? ... When you’ve never been there or know what it takes to actually shoot for something like (the playoffs), sometimes you’re afraid to get uncomfortable. You’ve got to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
That was apparently the final straw for a few of the Lakers, and James seemed to respond well to their counter-critique (via McMenamin):
The meeting in Memphis was a retort of sorts. In what became an open forum, several players spoke up. Players focused on James’ inconsistent body language throughout the year. The four-time MVP copped to the critique, telling his teammates that, in essence, cutting out behavior like slumped shoulders and sideways glances has been something he has tried to work on his entire career.
The next night, James seemed to take the criticism to heart, putting his arms around guys during huddles, looking engaged during timeouts, and being vocal on defense -- but the Lakers still lost, 110-105, to a Grizzlies team that had lost 17 of their previous 20 games.
“Just because [the meeting] was positive doesn’t mean we’re going to win 25 games in a row,” a team source told ESPN.
It also doesn’t mean that James’ body language will be permanently fixed, as evidenced by his reaction after his fourth turnover of the first quarter on Friday night, a turnover that was caused by Kyle Kuzma not completing his cut (which he raised his hand to take responsibility for after).
That reaction isn’t unforgivable, but it is also understandable that over the course of the year, a cascade of such gesticulations would make teammates feel as if they’re being shown up and embarrassed. It’s to James’s credit that he’s apparently been trying to work on this, and he’s far from the only player to react this way to miscues at times, but given that we’re in year 16 of his career, it’s probably safe to say that he isn’t going to make a permanent change at this point. Habits that ingrained are hard to break.
Again, this isn’t to call James a bad teammate, or anything of the sort. It’s just to point out that this habit apparently has worn on at least a few of his teammates, to the point that they felt the need to address it. It was far from the Lakers’ biggest issue this year, but in a season when they needed as much cohesion as possible to survive all the trade deadline-related drama and injury adversity this team went through, it sounds like it certainly didn’t help.
Maybe on a team that is less of a powder keg in the years to come, James’ mannerisms won’t matter as much. And hey, if the Lakers are winning, James probably won’t feel the need to react negatively to plays so often. This summer may offer a solution to both issues, but if it doesn’t, this will be something to watch for again next season.
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