LeBron James makes practice debut for Lakers

ByDave McMenamin ESPN logo
Wednesday, September 26, 2018

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Lakers took the court for the first practice of the LeBron James era on Tuesday, and the first voice they heard was from their coach, Luke Walton, rather than the four-time MVP and three-time champion who signed with the franchise in July.

It might seem obvious that an NBA team's coach would be the first person to address the group at the outset of training camp, but life with James isn't always so predictable. Back in 2014, when he embarked on his second stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers, it was James, not coach David Blatt, who set the tone on Day 1.

But that wasn't the case Tuesday.

"It was all Luke today, man," James said. "Luke and the coaching staff had a great first practice."

The practice was missing a few things, however. For one, second-year point guard Lonzo Ball did not participate as he recovers from July arthroscopic surgery on his left knee.

Beyond that, there was no actual 5-on-5 basketball being played as Walton used the first of the Lakers' two-a-day sessions to focus solely on the defensive side of the ball.

"It was a physical practice, but we challenged them mentally, too, as far as being locked in and really kind of helping set the foundation of the team we want to be," Walton said.

Point guard Rajon Rondo, who will start in Ball's place to begin the season, urged his coach to let them scrimmage. Walton, however, said he would save that for Wednesday.

"We still haven't put in pick-and-roll defense and things like that, but if you take that away from the players too long, they might revolt against you," Walton said. "So we will let them have some fun tomorrow."

Delaying gratification was an appropriate tactic by Walton considering how much James and Rondo spoke about the importance of patience after the first practice.

"I got to bring in the approach I get from home," James said. "When you have three kids, you have to be patient. I'm not calling these guys kids; they're young men here, and some of these men have families as well. But you learn that you have to be patient and you have to gauge everyone individually very different to get the most out of them.

"Every day will be a better learning tool for me to see the ways I can get the most out of each and every one of these guys."

While James is looking to his family to help him with the process, Rondo is leaning on his religion.

"I'm not a patient guy either, but a couple weeks back, I went to church and the focus was patience, so I'm working on it," Rondo said. "It's something I always continue to work on. Some people say it's why Magic [Johnson] didn't really like coaching, because guys didn't catch up as quickly as he wanted to, and get over the process. But growing into this league, 32 years now, it's part of the game."

The part of the game that no one is used to seeing is JaVale McGee-- who is 1-for-15 on 3-pointers in his 10-year career -- launching from the outside, but sure enough that's how Tuesday's practice ended. McGee's team -- including Rondo, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Michael Beasley-- beatJames' team -- including Brandon Ingram, Lance Stephenson and Kyle Kuzma -- in a 3-point shooting competition.

While James took the loss in stride, gathering the group for its final huddle and leading it in a "1-2-3 together!" chant afterward, he displayed less, well, patience with a reporter who wondered how he planned to earn the respect of the L.A. fanbase.

"Who, me?" James questioned back. "Me?"

The reporter then reiterated the question, causing James to reiterate his confusion with the premise.

"Huh? I signed a four-year deal," James said. "How much more ... what do you want me to do? Listen, I signed a four-year deal. I'm here. So I know what I bring to the table, on the floor."

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