JR Smith Thinks The ‘Pressure Is Off’ LeBron James’ Shoulders In LA

Of all the players on the Los Angeles Lakers’ roster, J.R. Smith has the most experience playing with LeBron James, which gives him a fascinating perspective on what is similar or different about this incarnation of James.

In a media call on Friday, Smith explained a certain freedom and calm he’s noticed in James since joining the Lakers in the Orlando bubble, noting how being in the City of Angels may actually take pressure off James.

Smith called James’ ability to cede control to coaches and become comfortable not micro-managing each moment of the game “a testament to him growing.” The veteran guard played with James in Cleveland from 2015-18, and watched David Blatt come and go during a streak of four straight NBA Finals appearances. In Los Angeles alongside Anthony Davis, perhaps James is settling into a more loose back end of his career.

Without Rajon Rondo, who is out six to eight weeks with a hand injury, and Avery Bradley, who chose to sit out the NBA restart to be with his family during the pandemic, the Lakers may need to rely on Smith to contribute as spot-up shooter and defender, a role he filled capably with the Cavaliers. It’s a testament to James’ patience and brilliance that the Lakers are comfortable plugging Smith and Dion Waiters into the rotation heading into the playoffs, but it’s exactly the sort of growth Smith observes here.