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Why young players get better when they leave the Lakers — “Is LA just a tough place to play? Is it distracting? What is it?”

Lonzo-Ball-Kyle-Kuzma-Brandon-Ingram

Only a handful of NBA teams can stand side-by-side with the L.A. Lakers regarding history, championships, star appeal, and culture. Playing for the Purple and Gold and bringing a title to the city have become many players’ dreams. However, it turns out it’s easier said than done.

Festus Ezeli wonders why it’s hard to play for the Lakers

Former Golden State Warrior Festus Ezeli wondered why some of the Lakers’ “busts” and “misfits” became All-Stars on other teams such as Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, and Julius Randle

Ezeli also wondered if L.A. was just a tough place to play in. He’s right in his view that the core of the Lakers, once viewed as expendables, shined when they got traded. First of all, knowing they were on the block the moment LeBron arrived was great motivation and a chip on their shoulder. But the main reason for young players struggling in a purple and gold jersey is the fact the Lakers are the most prestigious franchise in the NBA - the pressure to win and deliver is always there.

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Ingram, Randle, Ball, and Kuzma were not afforded the time to grow more confident in their skills and abilities. Ingram was only 19 when he played for L.A., while Ball and Randle were both 20. Their fates were altered once LeBron James decided to play for the Lakers. When The King arrived, it meant one thing: the time to win is now. Getting traded may have been a blessing in disguise for Zo, Julius, Kyle, and Brandon, and kudos to them for working hard to improve their games. 

Who was tougher - LeBron or Kobe?

LeBron is known for having almost no patience with young players. Compared to Kobe Bryant’s era, there were also some trades here and there, but there was a time when The Black Mamba had to compete for the title with Chris Mihm, Smush Parker, and Luke Walton. Kobe endured those dark times and fought with his squad even though, realistically speaking, the Lakers were in rebuilding mode at that time. 

When LeBron arrived in 2018, the front office left no stones unturned to build the most competitive team around him, and it worked. James delivered a title to the city in 2020, two years after he switched jerseys. LeBron’s history tells us he can influence front office decisions regarding trades, no matter how much he denies it. Team executives give in because James’ track record of eight straight final appearances wasn’t a fluke or a mistake. It happened because he was given the coach and teammates he wanted to play with. 

Now that the Lakers are struggling, most analysts expect some player movement soon. The Russell Westbrook experiment is not working, and there will surely be a lot of trade talk around the Lakers. But unlike a few years ago, they have nowhere near the trade assets they had with Ingram, Ball, and Kuzma. Time to go through the Klutch Rolodex.

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