Whether it’s the result of becoming a champion, or because he’s more comfortable in his skin during his second season with the Lakers, it’s been clear that Anthony Davis is slowly becoming more at ease in his role as a leader of this team.
Last season, Davis held LeBron James accountable and was a voice in the locker room, but it was obvious that the team mostly went as James went. To some degree that will always be true for as long as James is wearing purple and gold — he is arguably the best player and leader in NBA history, after all — but Davis has made his voice heard more this year as well.
He’s done it on the floor, like early in the season, when he publicly called out his teammates for their poor defense, something the team credited for their turnaround before later going on to finish with the best defense in the NBA. He’s also done it off the floor, whether its by constantly trying to play through injuries to set an example for his teammates, calling himself out for his own poor play, or by leading the way while he’s on the sidelines.
That last quality is something teammate Jared Dudley praised Davis for while speaking to Kyle Goon of the O.C. Register:
“The whole time he was hurt, he’s talking in the locker room, talking, running and getting the iPad,” teammate Jared Dudley said. “I thought it was a huge jump. I think A.D. has to get comfortable with the people he’s around: His thing isn’t really coming in and talking with everybody. But now he’s talking, he’s more of a vocal leader. And when your star player also leads, that’s what you need.”
This isn’t the first time Dudley has praised Davis for his growth in this area this season, but it is a reminder of the progress Davis has made, and how he’s specifically made it. It’s also something that will be extremely important for the Lakers in the years to come.
This summer, Davis signed a deal that will keep him in purple and gold through at least the 2023-24 season, a notable date because it is one season longer than his co-star, LeBron James, is currently signed on for (Davis also has a player option for the 2024-25 season, when he will be 32 years old). The transition in power between those two stars is already starting, as it’s clear that James is stepping back at times this season, allowing his superstar understudy to develop his voice as the franchise’s centerpiece.
That’s important, because James is 36 right now, and will be 38 years old by the time his current contract ends. Whether the seemingly immortal superstar retires then or not, it seems extremely likely that there will be a time when it’s Davis leading this team without James at his side. When that time comes, the Lakers will be lucky that Davis spent this time learning under James, growing his voice, and getting more comfortable as the center of gravity the organization orbits around.
And if they get to keep chasing titles while they’re doing it? Even better.