Much ado about nothing?
On Wednesday, a report from ESPN Basketball writer Brian Windhorst stated that LeBron James had been ignoring the play calls of Los Angeles Lakers head coach Luke Walton.
Ordinarily, a report of a team's star player intentionally ignoring the orders of his head coach is enough to cause a rift within any sports organization.
So on Thursday, Lakers team president Magic Johnson publicly shut down that report in an interview with SiriusXM NBA Radio:
"Brian got it wrong," Johnson said. "This is all about making sure that they can say something on ESPN and everybody can just talk. We have a system that the ball moves around, a lot of pick-and-roll plays. If you watch us play, the ball is not in LeBron James’ hands all of the time. It can’t be, because you want to pass it around, you want to get into your pick-and-roll plays. But hey, we’re the Lakers. People are going to be talking about us. But that’s not how it’s going right now."
Johnson is correct that the Lakers have a system that moves the ball around, but he was incorrect when he said 'Brian got it wrong.'
Late in the game of the Lakers 104-108 loss to the Orlando Magic, I witnessed firsthand what appeared to be Walton trying to get James attention for a play call, and instead James running his own play.
This doesn't appear to breaking news, or deliberate disobedience on the part of James. Plenty of stars in every major sport might ignore or change a play call if they see something differently on the court or field of play.
Also, as the team's primary ballhandler in the past, James has done this frequently throughout his career with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat. In fact, James famously told former coach David Blatt he wouldn't run his out of bounds play before hitting a buzzer beater in Game 4 of the NBA Playoffs in 2015.
According to Windhorst's report:
"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."
We understand how the optics of the report look, and the reason why Johnson would publicly shoot it down, but honestly this seems much ado about nothing.
Everytime the Lakers go on a losing streak or struggle, reports of Walton being on the hot seat will inevitably arise, but as long as the Lakers continue to play winning basketball, there will be no cause for concern in LaLaLand.