Entering LeBron James’ free agency, multiple reports indicated his desire to play off the ball more in his new contract. When he signed with the Los Angeles Lakers, James praised Lonzo Ball and endorsed Rajon Rondo, the two pass-first point guards who would be responsible for his supposed adjustment. Come training camp, James went so far as to say this relinquishment of duties was “key for our team.”
This was all ridiculous, of course, because James is one of the two greatest players in basketball history, primarily as a direct result of his ability to control the game, and there was no way he was ever going to cede that stewardship to Ball or Rondo when it came actually to winning time.
Now, six weeks into his debut season with the Lakers, not only is James serving as the team’s lead facilitator, he is ignoring coach Luke Walton’s offensive direction, according to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst:
The scouts also have noticed that when James is running the point, he rarely looks toward the bench to receive play calls from coach Luke Walton. Even when he has seen them, the scouts say, he ignores them and runs the play he prefers. Walton has adjusted, and now when James is running the show, Walton will typically just let him call the game. This probably shouldn’t be considered a slight — it’s just James being James.
This is par for the course for James, who has usurped his coach’s command at every stop, with the possible exception of the Miami Heat’s Erik Spoelstra (only after Pat Riley ignored calls for his firing). And who can blame him? His ball dominance has produced eight straight NBA Finals appearances and three championship rings. He is one of the game’s great passers, and his encyclopedic knowledge of every defensive tactic ever thrown at him over 16 seasons exceeds most, if not all, active coaches.
James leads all Lakers in usage rate (30.4 percent), time of possession (5.6 minutes per game) and time per touch (4.27 seconds), as it should be for a four-time MVP without another All-Star at his side.
We should point out that the Lakers owned a top-10 offense before Rondo suffered a broken hand on Nov. 14, and the team has dipped to 26th in that regard in six games since the injury. This period of time, which features a 3-3 record, coincides with an uptick in LeBron’s overall control of the offense.
It’s got to be frustrating if you’re Walton, trying to steer a team when the player who all your developing talents are looking to for guidance is straight-up ignoring you. That this falls on the heels of reports that Lakers players are “discontent” with Walton’s lineups and team president Magic Johnson “admonished” the coach for their poor start is not a ringing endorsement of his authority.
This is the reason the Cleveland Cavaliers were left without an offensive system without James, to the point that Tyronn Lue was fired for failing to revamp his offense immediately upon losing LeBron. Such is the deal one makes when he signs on to coach a notoriously controlling superstar, I suppose.
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