LeBron James has had a difficult first season with the Los Angeles Lakers, and it is becoming apparent that after advancing to the NBA Finals for almost a decade, James may miss the playoffs entirely.
While it can’t all be thrust on James’ shoulders, he has displayed troubling apathy on the court as of late. As a result, he’s received quite a lot of local and national criticism.
To pile on the current tumult in L.A., James recently spoke about his teammates’ inability to deal with distractions and expectations.
“So you got to be comfortable with being uncomfortable,” James said in Late February. “So I’m not saying that’s what we are as a whole. It kind of looks that way at times, that sometimes we’re afraid to be uncomfortable and kind of get out of our comfort zone and kind of, you know, have that sense of urgency from the jump, and not be afraid to actually go out and fail to succeed. So I mean, we have, what — 23 games left? We’ll see what happens.”
This earned James even more critics. One person who won’t be criticizing James, however, is former Lakers great Kobe Bryant.
Bryant defended James while talking to Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated late last week.
“What he’s saying is true,” Bryant began. “I can’t speak to what the locker room dynamics are, who he could be referring to, I don’t know anything about that. On the surface, you have to be obsessive with the game. And then understanding that, for this organization, the only thing that matters is winning championships. And there’s no in-between, right? … That’s how this market is, man. That’s what the L.A. brand stands for, man.”
Underneath the surface, James and Bryant are both speaking about the same thing. James wants his younger teammates to accept the pressure that they now face and cross the threshold from young and promising team to championship contender.
Bryant is agreeing with James that the pressure to excel is there. The only question is whether or not James has the ability to convince the likes of Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, and Lonzo Ball when he returns from injury to do that.
The Lakers are currently four and a half games back of the eighth seed in the Western Conference. With just 19 games left on the schedule, the chances of making up that ground are quite slim.
If the Lakers fail to advance to the playoffs, it stands to reason that many of the young players James was referring to just over a week ago will no longer be wearing the Purple and Gold next season.