The national media is afraid to call out LeBron James. No one on the Los Angeles Lakers will dare criticize him. His contemporaries leave him alone. Basketball fans have treated him like a sacred cow. Lakers fans are too passive to even rip anyone on the team.
Besides Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke and Scottie Pippen, I am the only observer that notice this, so it has to be said.
James has been disengaged as a Laker this entire season. He is the reason the Lakers are 28-29 at the All-Star break, and he is why the team is trending downward. He is why his teammates have no interest in playing with him or for him.
The Lakers aren’t a great team, but they are better than their record is. They have been mediocre, even when James was healthy. They haven’t played with a purpose all year. Most of them, there has been a sense of malaise around the team. They haven’t played together at all. Some of their players tend to bring it some nights, and some just don’t. James is surprisingly one of them who plays when he wants to.
The Lakers should feel cheated by him. They signed him as a free agent to lead them past mediocrity. He came in to help lead the Lakers to a better today and tomorrow. They brought him aboard to make Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball better. He has done neither of those things. If anything, he has treated this season as if he is redshirting for next season. For Pete’s sake, he has been more invested in Duke games this year than his own team.
James has not given the Lakers great moments or any game that a Lakers fan or a basketball fan would be vowed. He had one great game for them this season, and it came on Dec. 5 when he scored 20 of his 42 points in the fourth quarter, leading the Lakers to a 121-113 victory over the San Antonio Spurs. Other than that, most of his points have been pedestrian at best.
He has not given the maximum effort that he would give as a Cleveland Cavalier and Miami Heat. I first noticed he did not seem to care in the Lakers’ 124-120 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Oct. 29. It was a game, which he did not give an effort to get to the loose balls or be assertive in taking over the game.
The Lakers have every right to ask what gives.
It’s been no secret that he is not crazy about his supporting cast. He does not think they are good enough to help him get another championship. He hasn’t endorsed their play all season. He has been talking about playing with guys like Anthony Davis and Kawhi Leonard. There has been talk that he wants to play with Klay Thompson next year.
Here’s an example where he and his supporting cast are disconnected: In the Lakers’ 136-94 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Feb. 5, there was a clip of him distancing himself from his teammates by sitting few rows apart. This is just poor timing and poor leadership in the light of Kuzma, Ingram and Ball being trade bait for Davis. It’s James’ job to lead them together, not alienate them.
It may be a lost cause now. Why would Kuzma, Ingram and Ball want to play when James and the Lakers want to get rid of them? Sure, they are professionals, but it’s hard to be motivated when a team really does not need them. It’s only human nature. When James is involved, it makes it this much worse. It’s not easy to do.
This is on James to somehow rally these guys together. It can start with his own performance. He has to play like he wants to win every game, not be disengaged and have this laissez-faire approach to the game. His teammates can pick up on that, and maybe they will feel the need to want to play hard, even if they don’t like him.
Also, he took a long time to come back from his groin injury that he suffered against the Golden State Warriors on Christmas Day. He is the type of player that comes back quickly or plays through an injury. For him to take awhile to come back, the Lakers should be asking themselves if he truly wants to play for them.
It was strange he signed with the Lakers this summer. He knew he had no chance of winning a championship with this cast. He talked about it’s about beyond this year. It’s been no secret that his move to LA transcended basketball, which he wants his son to play basketball at a prep school in Southern California en route to Duke and he wants to partake in doing stuff for Hollywood.
It does not give him the right to cheat the game and the fans by stealing money and not caring whether or not the Lakers do well. Not only he is hurting his teammates, but he is wasting another prime year of his career.
It was disheartening to hear him be nonchalant when asked about the Lakers’ chances of missing the playoffs. He said either they make it or they don’t. It’s not what Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and Lakers owner Jeanie Buss would like to hear from their well-paid superstar.
Here’s hoping James does some soul-searching during a long All-Star break.
This is the least he can do in a season where he has been stealing the Lakers’ money.