Before James went down with a groin injury that cost him 17 games, L.A. was 20-14 and optimistic. Now, two months later, things have crashed and burned, and the team is in serious danger of missing the postseason. As of Feb. 27, they are 29-31, in 11th place in the West and three games (plus the tiebreaker) behind the Spurs for the No. 8 seed. This is significant, as LeBron’s made the postseason for 15 straight years, not to mention his eight-season Finals streak.
His vibe with the team has also changed. At the beginning of his tenure in L.A., James seemed more willing to wait on the growth of his young teammates. That progressed into all of those teammates being tossed in trade rumors involving Anthony Davis ahead of the deadline. Now that a deal didn’t happen, there’s shades of passive-aggressiveness in James’ tone.
Here’s a look at L.A.’s season through the cryptic, upbeat, and self-appraising words of LeBron James.
“This is, this is kinda like a dream come true for me,” James said. “You know, growing up I was a Cowboys fan, I was a Bulls fan, I was a Yankees fan, and I’ve always felt like that was like one of the historic franchises. You look at the Lakers, being able to play for a historic franchise you know, with so much history you know.”
Because I love the young guys that they have, and I’m not trying to force my hand in no way, shape or form,” James told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols. “I believe Rob [Pelinka] and Magic [Johnson] and Jeanie [Buss] have done an unbelievable job of reshaping what the organization should be, keeping Dr. Buss’ dreams and what he was all about, to keep that going. I feel like they know what’s best for the team and I wanted to be a piece to continue that motion of being back to a championship franchise where they should be.
Oct. 11: LeBron will “be as patient as I can be” with the young guys
“I would never get into [an East-West] conversation like that,” James told Yahoo Sports, referring to the immediate departure of Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, and Dion Waiters upon his return to Cleveland in 2014. “‘Oh, he’s competitive in the East, but [the West is different].’ I’m well respected by my peers and that’s all that matters. I’m going to be as patient as I can be. I know I got a young squad, but these guys are willing to learn and I’m willing to learn with them.”
Oct. 20: LeBron makes an interesting statement
“There’s a lot of excitement today,” James said. “A lot of excitement for our fans I believe, from the city. We’re excited to showcase to our fans what we’ve been working on for the last month. I can promise to our fans we’re not the team tonight that we’re gonna be in January and February, but we will be extremely excited to be out there.”
That line raised Silver Screen and Roll’s eyebrows at the time, and looks especially poignant now.
Oct. 28: LeBron posts an individual accomplishment following a loss. It won’t be the first time
Following L.A’s 110-106 loss to the Spurs — which dropped the Lakers to 2-4 on the season — James put a graphic on Instagram showing he’d moved up to No. 6 on the NBA’s All-Time scoring list.
Oct. 30: “You probably don’t want to be around when my patience runs out.”
James said this after the Lakers fell to 2-5 on the season. In fairness, he was led on a bit by reporters.
“We talk about patience but you can’t have reoccurrence of the same thing,” James told reporters after the loss to the Timberwolves.
“If you are doing the same things over and over and over and expecting the same result then that’s insanity.
“So we have to get better. We can’t keep having the same mistakes over and over.”
Q: You’ve mentioned patience this whole year. At what point does that patience run out, and what do you look like as a leader when your patience does run out?
LeBron: “You probably don’t want to be around when my patience runs out. I’m serious.”
Dec. 19: LeBron is excited about the idea of playing with Anthony Davis
“That would be amazing,” James told ESPN on before the Lakers’ 115-110 loss to the Brooklyn Nets, referring to the Lakers landing Davis through a trade. “That would be amazing, like, duh. That would be incredible.”
The Lakers were 18-13 at the time of this quote, but things were about to turn.
Dec. 22: James expanded his list to show he’d welcome all star players to L.A.
“Ask me would I like to play with Kevin Durant,” James said.
When a reporter asked James exactly that, James said “absolutely,” and then went on to further his argument by basically listing a group of players that he’d like to play with.
“Ask me if I’d like to play with Jimmy Butler. Ask me about Kyrie Irving. Giannis. Ask me about Embiid, Ben Simmons. Go ahead, all of them. Luka Doncic. Ask me right now. Come on, guys. It’s not rocket science,” James said. “These are great players, absolutely I would love to play with a lot of great players. That’s just who I am.”
James was trying to diffuse his Davis comments, but it didn’t work.
“With me, with injuries, I’m never too concerned about them. I was able to walk off under my own power. I felt a pop and tried to see if i could stretch it a few times if it’d relieve, but it didn’t.”
James suffered the injury on Christmas Day and went on to miss 18 games. The Lakers went 6-12 in those contests.
Feb. 5: ‘Fantasy basketball’
James was asked about the ongoing Davis rumors that many felt he — or at least his friend’s Rich Paul’s agency, Klutch Sports — initiated.
LeBron James on Anthony Davis: “I kind of tend not to play much fantasy basketball, that’s how I’ve always been. If something were to occur with our team whether it’s him or it’s somebody else throughout the trade deadline we’ll approach it then.”
— Bill Oram (@billoram) February 5, 2019
Feb. 5: James moves up the all-time scoring list and posts about it after a franchise-worst loss
Feb. 13: James doesn’t seem worried about the playoffs
“You either make it or you don’t make it. That’s when you worry about it.”
That was his response when asked. Then, he was asked if the team lost focus after the hyped up trade deadline:
“That’s a possibility.”
Feb. 20 : “I don’t fear nothing”
The reality of being a sub-.500 team is starting to set in here.
“It’s been a while. It’s been quite a while for me since I’ve been under .500 going into the All-Star break. I don’t remember the last time. So my level of intensity — for me unfortunately because I don’t like to do it at such an early time — has been activated, so I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do,” James said after practice on Wednesday.
“I don’t fear nothing. I don’t fear,” James said, repeating “I don’t fear” once more for emphasis. “I’m all about being uncomfortable. I fall in love with being uncomfortable, so this is another uncomfortable thing for me and I love it.”
Feb. 23: James says he’s not accustomed to losing
“The last few years, everyone’s so accustomed to the losses that I’m just not accustomed to. I’m not accustomed to it, I’d never get comfortable with losing. Losing game one to Houston, it feels the same way as losing game 59 in New Orleans, for me. That’s just how I’m built. That’s who I am.”
For the record, the Lakers lost Game 59 to an Anthony Davis-less New Orleans team by 13 points.
Feb. 25: James sounds off about distractions
After a second consecutive embarrassing loss, this time to the Marc Gasol-less Grizzlies, James took a bit of a leading question from a reporter and made a statement. James was asked if the constant talk about the playoffs with 20-something games to go was a distraction for the team.
“At this point, if you are still allowing distractions to affect the way you play, then this is the wrong franchise to be a part of, and you should just come in and say, ‘I can’t do this.’ Like, seriously, if you’re distracted by playoff pushes and all the stuff we’ve been talking about this year, then… (tails off)
“Just come and do you job; we’ll do our job at a high level, and that’s not a distraction. That’s what you want. Every game you want to feel like you’re fighting for something.”
Feb. 25: Yep, he followed that up with an Instagram post about another achievement
James is now a top-10 all-time scorer and assister.
Meanwhile, the Lakers are three games out of the postseason. What more might happen with James’ mood?