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Seventeen dribbles after the Los Angeles Lakers’ 117-103 road loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday.
1. LeBron James isn’t engaged. He isn’t showing heart for the entire game. He’s blaming his teammates when things go wrong. The Lakers’ defense stinks. Overall, the Lakers should be better.
2. Those are the things we are occasionally hearing from LA fans and media. And we are sometimes hearing it even after James finishes with a triple-double — such as the remarkable stat line of 28 points, 16 assists and 11 rebounds he put up against the Hawks.
3. But for those who followed James during his second run with the Cavaliers … well, these types of accusations are nothing new. Cavs fans and media said the same thing for four years.
4. Remember how many times fans left Quicken Loans Arena in utter frustration, as LeBron and the Cavs failed to live up to regular-season expectations time and again? “Just get me to the playoffs,” James would often say.
5. Oh, and there’s also the drama that constantly surrounded James in Cleveland. Locker-room discord. Rumors of coaching changes. Pressure on the organization to pull off massive trades. Pressure on the organization to sign his friends.
6. Granted, some of that drama was imagined. But some of it was real.
7. Guess where all that stuff is today? Yeah, you guessed it. Lakerland. Not all of it is LeBron’s fault. But some it is. It has to be.
8. What’s most amazing about this is so many of those who follow and cover the Lakers act as if this is all so new. But guess what? If LeBron had stayed in Cleveland, the same thing would be happening in Cleveland. We know this because it’s the same stuff Cleveland saw and listened to from 2014 until the end of last season.
9. Translation: There is a price to pay that comes with having James on your team. A price like perhaps no other superstar in history has generated. Kobe Bryant wasn’t perfect — but there was never any questioning his will to win. Same goes for Magic Johnson. Or Larry Bird. Or Bill Russell. And don’t even get us started on Michael Jordan.
10. Maybe James doesn’t deserve so much scrutiny. We’ve all seen the Cavs and Lakers without him. They are/were awful. Maybe he is in the right for joining these lesser rosters, losing his patience and demanding more. LeBron is a smart guy, a competitive guy. And generally a kind guy. But he creates chaos and that cannot be denied. Cleveland knew that. LA apparently is just now figuring it out.
11. Whether you feel he has earned it or not, LeBron is about LeBron first. The organization is second. Anyone who values the organization doesn’t bolt Cleveland, then bolt Miami, then bolt Cleveland again. Anyone who values the concept of team stands up for his coach and doesn’t try to have his agent orchestrate a trade of half the roster for just one guy.
12. Trivia time: Why was Kyrie Irving so determined to leave the Cavs after three straight Finals appearances? Answer: Because he thought LeBron wanted the Cavs to trade him.
13. Imagine how the current batch of Lakers feels. They’re younger and significantly less accomplished than Irving was at the time.
14. This isn’t intended to trash James. It’s obviously much better to have him in your locker room than not. This is a bottom-line industry and LeBron gets results. The Lakers (28-29) wouldn’t make the playoffs if the season ended today. But it’s a safe bet they will be there when it counts. Why? Because LeBron James, that’s why.
15. Back to the dark side. James played 43 minutes Tuesday night. In a loss. To the lowly Hawks. Remember Magic Johnson’s promise that the Lakers wouldn’t run James into the ground, suggesting the Cavs were oh-so-guilty of doing exactly that? Well, here we are again. You can be sure that somehow, someway, everyone will come to the conclusion that Luke Walton is to blame. Just as it was supposedly David Blatt’s fault before that, and Mike Brown’s before that.
16. This much we know — Walton will not be back to coach this team next season. We also know the Lakers will again try to trade half the team for New Orleans Pelicans star Anthony Davis in the summer. We also know too many of the LA and national media members will behave as agent Rich Paul’s lapdogs, spinning their stories in his favor, all for the promise of exclusive information. Real or manufactured, it won’t really matter.
17. We also know James and Paul will be behind it all, blaming others, acting surprised and innocent, and secretly passing along their frustrations to those who can spread the word. This is the side of having LeBron that the Lakers are learning to manage. And it’s the side the Cavs already knew about and undoubtedly will never, ever miss.