LOS ANGELES – There’s nothing quite like coaching LeBron James, and there’s nothing quite like being his teammate.
In a season dubbed as an extended evaluation period for members of the Los Angeles Lakers, the pressure to produce wins is still at a premium because of James’ presence.
Former Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt learned that not even an NBA Finals appearance and owning the top seed in the conference equate to job security when coaching the 14-time All-Star.
Growing pains and learning curves are expected from a franchise trying to develop young prospects such as Brandon Ingram (21), Lonzo Ball (20), Kyle Kuzma (23) and Josh Hart (23). But no one gets a pass.
Time is still of the essence, yet James told Yahoo Sports he’s currently reading books on how to exercise patience.
That may be paying off.
On Thursday at Staples Center, the Lakers picked up their first home win of the season, 121-114, by handing the Denver Nuggets (4-1) their first loss.
James recorded his first triple-double as a Laker with game-highs of 28 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists. The Lakers (2-3) have reeled off two victories in as many nights after opening the season winless.
“I felt if we didn’t get this win tonight, they’ll probably take us off nationally televised games,” James said facetiously.
After that well-chronicled and overly dissected 0-3 start, coach Luke Walton furiously ripped into his team about its struggling defense before tipping off against the rebuilding Phoenix Suns.
Walton felt the need to turn up the heat after three games.
That’s the LeBron effect. It comes with supernatural abilities, heightened attention and massive expectations. And his teammates feel it in other ways, too.
Following Thursday’s win, James was holding his postgame address at his locker stall while reporters and camera crews fought for position in a cramped, compact area.
And even though it’s an uncomfortable squeeze for all, the conditions are presently improved because of the suspensions of Ingram and Rajon Rondo, who occupy the stalls on James’ left and right side, respectively.
Kuzma, who was on his way to the showers, had to squeeze past a narrow opening of media members flocked around James. And about five minutes later, he re-emerged from the shower.
“[LeBron’s] still talking? [Expletive]!” Kuzma yelled in jest as he tiptoed around reporters en route to his locker.
James’ presence is still taking some time to get used to.
“I ain’t never seen anything like that before,” Kuzma told Yahoo Sports. “It’s like The Beatles. That’s the best comparison I got.”
Another superstar who made his presence felt Thursday was Kobe Bryant, to whom James will forever be compared while sporting the purple and gold.
The Lakers great took in his first game of the season and sat baseline behind the visiting team’s basket. He sat next to general manager Rob Pelinka and Nike executive Nico Harrison.
There were subtle “Kobe” chants frequently throughout the contest, and fans even ramped up the chant when James had the ball in the third quarter, but he immediately silenced them after draining a triple.
For the most part, Bryant sat deadpan with his hands crossed in front of his face and occasionally pumped his fist when the Lakers made a good play. Laker Nation hasn’t completely warmed to James, thus making Bryant’s appearance feel a bit awkward.
“I didn’t get an opportunity to share words with him, but I absolutely noticed him sitting there on the baseline,” James said of Bryant. “An all-time Laker great [with] what he has done for this franchise in the 20-plus years he was here. It speaks wonders for me to compete against him all those years and for me to be able to share a jersey. For him to take the time to watch us play tonight was pretty cool.”
Now, the Lakers will look to build off this new-found momentum to see what they’re truly made of.
It’s self-discovery time. Not everyone can handle the pressure of playing alongside James. Not everyone can accept being scrutinized for every coaching decision.
It all comes with the territory that is “James Island.” Going off precedent with James’ teams, the weak shall be disposed of eventually and the ones who prove their worth shall find basketball success at the highest level.
The Lakers are finding out what this is all about.
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