When the Los Angeles Lakers were preparing to chase star free agents last summer, their young core was touted as being a selling point for the franchise. Though in the case of LeBron James, some were wary of the likelihood he would sign with the Lakers without a second All-Star in place.
James bucked that belief by committing to the Lakers, on a four-year contract no less, on the first day of 2018 free agency. Although there was speculation the Lakers would look to trade for a second star, they kept their young core intact and instead surrounded them with veteran role players.
James said he did not give the Lakers any directive or reason to trade some of their young talent during the summer, and he’s often raved about Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma throughout the season.
With the Lakers limping toward the finish of another disappointing season, James again came to the defense of the team’s youth. “We have a lot of guys that haven’t experienced much,” he said.
“I think the best teacher in life is experience. You can only learn as you go about things, how you tackle that, how you engage in that. For me, my first two years in the NBA, I didn’t make the playoffs. I was still trying to figure out how do you play sense-of-urgency basketball every single game. That’s something I was figuring out on my own. I wasn’t fortunate enough to have a lot of vets that had experience. I kind of had to learn on my own.
“We have four guys in our top-eight rotation that we have to really rely on, and it’s unfair to them to ask for so much when they’re in their second or third year. We have ‘Zo, Josh, Kuz, B.I., and we had Zu at the time. That’s like five out of our top-nine guys that we rely on. You can’t find one other team in our league right now that has to rely on that much, every single night from their young guys that’s in their first or second year.
“It’s unfair to those guys for. We want them to learn, I want them to learn, but I also have to understand they’re young as well and they’re going to make mistakes. You just try to limit the mistakes as much as possible. You look at the 16 teams right now that are the best teams in the league, just look at the guys they rely on every single night to be able to come through. If they have a young guy, it’s probably one or two of them. It’s been tough on us.”
For as much as the Lakers have asked from their young core, they have shown an ability to meet those demands. Ball was playing the best basketball of his career before suffering a sprained ankle, Ingram found a rhythm after the All-Star break but now is battling a shoulder injury, and Kuzma was also playing well before suffering a sprained ankle.
And while this season has been a learning process for all involved, how much of the Lakers young core will return next season is uncertain.
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