Although the Los Angeles Lakers filled out their roster around LeBron James by signing several veterans and later adding another in Tyson Chandler, the trajectory of the team was largely tied to how the young core would continue to develop.
The group showed promise last season, which was a factor in James deciding to sign with the Lakers, but have struggled in the past five games he and Rajon Rondo have been out. Kyle Kuzma missing the second half of Wednesday’s game with the Oklahoma City Thunder and not playing Friday has accentuated the problems.
Unable to solve recent issues that have plagued them — turnovers, stagnant offense in the fourth quarter, and missed free throws — the Lakers suffered a fourth loss in their past five games.
That it came to the New York Knicks, who entered with just nine wins this season and mired in an eight-game losing streak, made it all the more maddening. Lakers head coach Luke Walton chided his team for failing to make a commitment to playing as a group.
While individuals attempting to shoulder a larger workload has been a trouble spot, so too has the lack of a clear leader. It’s a void Lance Stephenson said he needs to fill.
“I’ve got to pick it up. I’m going to put it all on me,” Stephenson said from a glum locker room. “I’ve got to be that veteran and leader to get my teammates going so we can win these games.”
JaVale McGee, who has been lauded for his championship experience pointed to the overall team as needing to account for James and Rondo being sidelined.
“We have to step up. Everybody. As a team, we have to step,” McGee said. “There’s no excuse. We’re all professionals. We all know how to play basketball, so we just have to come together and step up.”
The Lakers hope to have Kuzma available on their two-game road trip, as they will continue to be without James and Rondo for the foreseeable future.
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