LeBron James has his fingerprints all over this year’s Lakers roster. It was James who invited Russell Westbrook into his home to talk to him and Anthony Davis about coming to Los Angeles; it was James who convinced his longtime friend Carmelo Anthony to join forces with him free agency; and it was James’ age that inspired the front office to rebuild the team’s identity a year after they won a championship.
Now James, in his 19th season, will be expected to turn this jumbled Lakers team into a championship contender, or at least something resembling one, by the time playoffs start in April. He’s done it before — once in Miami and again in Cleveland — but he feels like this is the biggest test he’s faced in his career thus far.
“It ranks right at the top with any other challenge I’ve had in my career, which actually brings out the best in me and I love that,” James said on Sunday. “I love trying to figure out how we can be better and get through the mud, or get through adversity, and it will just make it sweeter on the back end. So I feel like we haven’t even scratched the surface on what kind of team we can be and we’re going to continue to get better and better, continue to learn each other more and more, continue to work into our system and defensively.
“Like I said in preseason, training camp and everything, we have, I believe, nine new guys coming into a system they haven’t been in. So it takes time. And obviously you hate losses. We don’t want to lose, we get frustrated, we was mad as heck the other night after that Sac loss and we made it a point to come in today very focused on the game plan and learning from our mistakes, and then we got better,” James continued. “That right there lets me know that we care, and that we’re a team that wants to continue to get better throughout it all.”
Through over a quarter of the season, the Lakers are the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference with a record of 11-11. However, in the games that James, Davis and Westbrook have been available, they’ve gone 6-4 and have only lost by an average of 2.1 points.
The worst is far from over for the Lakers, especially with the news that James has entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols and is out indefinitely, but if there’s anyone that can find solutions for those problems — or at the very least put a band aid over them — it’s James, arguably the greatest leader and team player in NBA history.
James asked for the Lakers’ full support this past summer and they obliged; now he has to show them their faith in him is justified, again. It’s also on the players that James recruited to reward his trust by performing well. If they can do that, then perhaps this season won’t be as doomed as it seems currently.