LeBron James has been the king of the mountain — the best player in the NBA, the guy with a career trajectory that puts him on the NBA’s Mount Rushmore — for nearly a decade now. He has won rings and racked up hardware, and along the way he has changed the dynamic about how players can use their leverage and power to take control of their careers on and off the court, pulling some of that power away from teams.
This season, faced with a new challenge, LeBron stumbled. In part due to injury (and age), in part due to decisions about how to build a team around him (ideas he backed and endorsed), LeBron will be home watching the playoffs come mid-April. Or, he’ll be in Cabo and not watching them. Either way, LeBron came to the varsity conference out West and could not lift the Lakers to the postseason the way he lifted the Cavaliers to the Finals in recent seasons.
After years of having no answer to stop him, it’s not surprising there are executives from other teams who — anonymously, of course — are willing to pile on. A little bit of schadenfreude. Ken Berger of Bleacher Report had the story.
“I’ve never seen him like this, and I’m a little shocked because I’ve been around him and thought he was more of a leader,” a Western Conference executive said. “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.”
“Now it’s all about deferring and putting blame on somebody else,” one of the Western Conference executives said. “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.”
That’s a “get off my lawn” way of looking at things, the “back in the day these guys wouldn’t have done that.” It’s not like Kobe Bryant ever demanded a trade or threw teammates under the bus… oh, wait. Yes he did. Jordan just decided to walk away from the game for two years in the prime of his career.
This strikes me as generational as much as a chance to kick a guy when he’s down.
“These new-school guys always want to put it on somebody else,” one of the Western Conference executives said. “It’s an immediate-gratification society, and it’s always someone else’s fault.”
LeBron this season has shown flashes of being the LeBron who could carry a team, who could single-handedly dominate games, but the groin injury put him in a suit for a key stretch of the season and robbed him of that takeover ability when he returned. LeBron didn’t have a team around him capable of lifting him up when he stumbled.
But next season? When LeBron is rested and fit again, not to mention playing with a chip on his shoulder after missing the playoffs? After the Lakers put another star and a better roster around him? (That last one is wait-and-see, it is far from a sure thing, Magic and Pelinka have a lot to prove.)
Those executives may find out LeBron can still lead and dominate games. And they may have to eat some crow.