After posting a respectable 20-14 record as of Christmas Day, the rest of the Los Angeles Lakers’ 2018-19 campaign has been the proverbial series of unfortunate events. The team has dealt with lengthy injuries to multiple key players, with wingman Brandon Ingram becoming the latest casualty, as reported Saturday afternoon on NBA.com. The slew of trade rumors linking many a Laker to the team’s failed pursuit of New Orleans Pelicans big man Anthony Davis has also been blamed for Los Angeles’ ongoing collapse. However, multiple fingers have also been pointed in superstar forward LeBron James’ direction, as his leadership was questioned by multiple NBA executives in a newly published article from Bleacher Report.
Given how the Lakers are now tied for 10th place in the Western Conference with a 30-35 record, with their chances of making the playoffs now considered extremely slim, Bleacher Report‘s Ken Berger noted on Saturday that James appears to have “stepped out of character,” much to the team’s detriment. After once saying that it isn’t his style to criticize underperforming teammates, James has reportedly surprised multiple people around the NBA, including one unnamed Western Conference executive who admitted being “shocked” because he knows James as being “more of a leader.”
“All of a sudden, I’m seeing a different LeBron. Dude, don’t do that; you’re hurting yourself. The best thing he can do is tell everybody, ‘My guys have been great, I can do better, and we need to continue to improve as a team.’ He hasn’t done that. Instead, he’s throwing people under the bus.”
While LeBron James hasn’t gone as far as calling out teammates by name, Bleacher Report’s Berger cited a few recent examples of how the four-time MVP seemed to be making “loaded” statements to the media after losses against lower-ranked teams. This included a comment after a loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, where James suggested that anyone who lets “distractions” affect their level of play shouldn’t be playing for the Lakers.
???? “He's throwing people under the bus.”
???? “I’ve never seen him like this.”
???? "That's going to taint him now when he finishes."
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 9, 2019
Although one source familiar with James’ style of dealing with teammates told Bleacher Report that the groin injury that kept him out for more than a month is “about 70 percent” responsible for the Lakers’ struggles, Berger stressed that other factors have likely contributed as well. He mentioned the Anthony Davis trade rumors that swirled incessantly ahead of last month’s trade deadline, which saw most of the Lakers’ key contributors brought up as fodder for a potential deal. However, Berger also quoted another unnamed Western Conference executive, who opined that the definition of leadership for NBA superstars has changed in recent years.
“Now it’s all about deferring and putting blame on somebody else, instead of being like an old-school guy and saying: ‘I’ve got to do a better job. I’ve got to make my teammates better. Great players and great leaders, that’s what they do. That’s what Kobe [Bryant] would’ve done. That’s what Michael Jordan would’ve done.”
In conclusion, Berger wrote that James’ perceived issues as the Lakers’ leader are part of a broader “generational shift.” This, he said, is one where superstar players no longer find it necessary to make their teammates better, instead preferring to “make a lot of noise” to the front office in order to get better teammates or sign with a new team that has a better chance of contending.