NEW YORK — LeBron James probably knew it the moment his attempted dunk over Brooklyn Nets center Jarrett Allen resulted in the eighth block of his illustrious career, saying, “It’s probably all over social media,” after the Los Angeles Lakers’ 115-110 loss Tuesday night.
The first-quarter play energized the youthful Nets, and James attributed the block to his advancing age, two weeks before his 34th birthday.
“He’s in his 20s, I’m in my 30s. It takes me a little longer to get warmed up,” James said at his locker after a 36-point, 13-rebound, eight-assist showing wasn’t enough to keep his team from finishing a four-game road trip with a 1-3 mark.
At 18-13, it’s probably taking the Lakers a little longer than planned to establish some consistency. It seemed like they had quietly turned a corner and were humming along before this road trip exposed some personnel flaws, issues focusing for long stretches and the expected adversity that comes with the changing expectations of James’ arrival.
James does appear to be getting a little antsy, as he is wont to do this time of year, maybe even more so in a Western Conference that has very little separation.
Before the game, he told ESPN the prospect of the Lakers acquiring New Orleans Pelicans star Anthony Davis would be “amazing.” Davis and James are both represented by Klutch Sports, and Davis’ next destination has been rumored for years even though he’s not a free agent this summer.
Adding to it, James and close friend Carmelo Anthony were spotted dining together Monday night in New York, again prompting the idea of the Lakers picking up Anthony — assuming he’ll be released from the Houston Rockets following a mutual exile.
James has vocally pushed back against the notion that Anthony’s presence disrupted the Rockets, believing Anthony can still contribute to a team. James has long said he would like to play with his longtime friend, so he doesn’t appear to mind the topic being broached.
“We’ll see,” James said Tuesday night. “I’m not … I don’t run the team and obviously there are some things that need to be worked out on both sides, but I’ve always wanted to play along with Melo, and if the opportunity presents itself, it would be great. So we’ll see what happens.”
Whether it’s mere coincidence or James feeling like the Lakers are missing out on a golden opportunity to pick up ground in the West, the timing can’t be ignored or dismissed. On this night, James’ annoyance with his teammates was evident through the careless turnovers or missed assignments that led to the Lakers playing from behind all night. On the heels of Sunday’s shellacking at the hands of the wayward Washington Wizards, James expected more from his teammates — even with Rajon Rondo, Brandon Ingram and JaVale McGee out with injury.
“We don’t just take the losses and throw them away,” James said. “Not in the wild, wild West where every game counts. Every game matters and we could have had a pretty good road trip but going 1-3 is definitely not a way that we could like to have it.”
Tyson Chandler is the only veteran who can relate to the urgency of which James speaks, and Chandler jokingly told Yahoo Sports: “Since we’re the two veterans on this team, you gotta have somebody to lean on, otherwise you’ll go crazy.”
Adding a player like Davis would lessen the dependency on James to lead furious fourth-quarter comebacks, as he did Tuesday, hitting tough shots against tougher defense as the Lakers made the Nets sweat in the final minutes before simple miscues derailed the rally.
It would certainly cost the Lakers the young talent they’ve accumulated in the years preceding their free-agent acquisition of James, even if Davis were available via trade. The Pelicans have given little indication they’d be willing to move the star anytime soon.
A combination of Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart and Lonzo Ball would have to be surrendered in any trade package for another superstar, and shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has been in the trade rumor mill for weeks.
Lakers president Magic Johnson and GM Rob Pelinka have been patient with their approach and careful about publicly speaking about how they’ll move through their partnership with James. Whether these were warning shots of sorts from James or carefully expressed frustration will only be revealed in time.
James has stressed the importance of patience this season, aware that his arrival can be jarring to a roster. His first year back in Cleveland, the Cavaliers were 18-12 before James missed eight games with injuries to his knee and back.
Shortly after his return, he went on a tear and the team followed suit, winning 12 in a row before finishing with a respectable 53-29 record on the way to the NBA Finals. He doesn’t have that luxury this time around, if an injury can be termed such a thing.
He appears to prefer letting this group figure things out and picking spots to assert himself.
“I mean, it’s always tough,” Chandler told Yahoo Sports. “You’re a competitor, you want to win every game. Especially the games you feel like you should win. But when you’re with a young team, you’re going to have your ups and downs. It’s the nature of the beast.”
As James’ apparent impatience of the moment illustrates, the nature can be a beast.
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