That LeBron James is frustrated with his Lakers teammates isn’t exactly a secret. His increasing annoyance with the players he shares the floor with has been obvious for weeks, and was on full display in the team’s end-to-end, 124-104 loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves in particular.
When even the team’s beat writers are tweeting about how James walked “comically slow back up the court” after the Wolves pushed back on another Lakers fake comeback, or about his open display of frustration while walking back to the bench after two straight Lakers airballs 10 minutes later, you know his open contempt for his teammates is getting so obvious it can’t be ignored.
But one doesn’t even need to be in the arena to see James’ increasing despondence. Every time a broadcast cuts to James on the bench, he is staring off into space, looking like he’d rather be literally anywhere else.
Given how the Lakers’ season is going, it’s hard to blame him.
His frustration has also been clear outside of the lines. After the team’s loss to the Raptors, James declined to speak to the media. On Wednesday night he did do a postgame interview, but his answers were mostly clipped demonstrations of his mounting annoyance.
What can the team do to make more shots?
“Make shots. It’s that obvious,” James said. “Teams are daring us to shoot the ball from the outside and we’re not making them.”
He said “we,” but it’s clear who that assessment was mostly directed at. But are he and his teammates missing shots because of some lack of confidence? Tired legs? Some combination of the two and other factors?
“No. Just make ‘em. That’s all. Just got to make shots. It’s not rocket science. Just make shots,” James said.
One of the few things the 19-year-veteran was willing to admit that he that he liked on Wednesday was his teammates’ effort, while also acknowledging that he wasn’t pleased with it against the Suns or Raptors. But he added that it’s hard to maintain his patience with everything when things are going this badly.
“At the end of the day you keep pushing forward. I’m very comfortable being uncomfortable. So it doesn’t bother me too much,” James said.
LeBron very much not liking it. Remember, it's possible these two teams see each other again in the Play-In— Jon Krawczynski (@JonKrawczynski) March 17, 2022
James has said in the past that each season provides a different challenge for him as a leader, and when asked by my friend Andy Kamenetzky about what test this campaign has provided, James was candid in his assessment while further illustrating his irritation.
“I think every season for me is all about patience,” James said. “It’s no different this year, I think it’s just testing my patience a bit more than any season in the last few years just because of the way we’re playing, the losses coming a bunch (at a time).
“All you continue to do is keep the focus out on the floor, figure out ways how you can be better for your teammates and not fall into a losing mentality,” James continued. “That’s what it’s all about, because at the end of the day I would never, ever put myself in a position where I feel like I’m losing, even if I lose a game. So that’s fine with me.”
But this also clearly isn’t fine with him, no matter what he says. His own increasingly frustrated body language during games and while trying to provide answers after them have made that clear.
“I’m a competitor, I want to win. You definitely get frustrated with certain things that happen on the floor, but you control what you can control, and what you can’t control you don’t worry about,” James said. “You continue to push forward. See ways you can continue to get better. See ways that you can be great for your ball club... Continue to lead. It’s easy to be comfortable when you’re winning. I’ve never been that guy, so it’s all about how comfortable can you be when things become uncomfortable. So I’m OK with that too.”
“Listen. There’s a lot of great teams in this league,” James continued. “For me, I just try to put guys in position every single night to help our ball club. Sometimes that goes well. This year, the majority of the time they haven’t. But it doesn’t stop the way I approach the game.”
The game that took place prior to James’ comments sort of disputed the honesty of that last notion for anyone watching closely. Because while it’s clear James is still more effective in his 19th season than any player ever has been, his frustration is seeping from his words into his approach. And whether or not the eventual return of Anthony Davis, or the possibility of a playoff berth earned via play-in game can shake him out of all this is one of the last remaining questions this season has left to answer.