LeBron James is the Lakers leader. He’s the player whose words are paid most attention to (particularly by media and fans), the player whose footsteps are followed by his teammates. When there’s a big moment for this team, it’s James who everyone looks to for guidance and direction; it’s James who sets the tone via his words (on and off the court) and his play.
For all his production and gaudy counting stats, it’s James’ leadership that has also catapulted him into the MVP discussion — he’s the person who has kept this team together through all variety of challenges this year, be it the firestorm that awaited his team in China during the preseason to Kobe’s tragic and untimely passing in January.
With James being the obvious leader and face of the franchise, it’s pretty easy to diminish the value of the other voices in the locker room and what they can mean to not only forming, but maintaining the culture that serves as the foundation for this team’s approach. Not all of this can fall on Bron’s shoulders, though, no matter how wide or strong they are.
This is where Anthony Davis comes in. As the team’s other top-tier, superstar player, Davis is naturally positioned as someone whose voice will carry a lot of weight. There’s often be a conception of him, however, that AD is not a vocal leader and typically someone who does his best to lead by example instead.
That, though, does not seem to capture all that he brings as a leader. In a recent interview with The Athletic, Jared Dudley shared some insight on Davis’ leadership when responding to a question about storylines that have not gotten as much attention as they should:
Anthony Davis has brought the best out of LeBron and LeBron has brought the best out of Anthony Davis. When it comes to Anthony Davis doesn’t get enough credit as far as being a leader. Pushing LeBron. People always think it’s LeBron to AD. AD’s presence defensively, him being a beast. LeBron trying to integrate him the right way, him being more vocal, him getting on teammates. People don’t see that side. LeBron might be the leader.
But don’t get it twisted. There’s many times that he’s more vocal than LeBron. I want people to know this man gave up millions of dollars to come here and it’s not just to follow somebody. It’s a co-lead.
When I made an early season case for Davis as the Defensive Player of the Year, I also discussed how Davis set an early tone for this team by talking about his goals to be the best defender in the league this season and by calling for LeBron to be an All-Defensive Team performer as well. While that sort of talk about Bron was, at the time, viewed as optimism to the highest degree, as the season played out we saw Bron play to a level defensively that he’d not reached consistently since his time in Miami.
As I wrote back in November, maybe it’s coincidence that Bron was putting this much effort into playing defense after being pumped up by AD, but I don’t believe it is. That’s the kind of leadership that deserves recognition, even though it’s not what we often think of when talking about being a “leader”.
That’s the thing, though, there’s so many moments throughout the season that happen behind the scenes, or even on the court, that fans are not privy to that exemplify a player’s leadership on a team. For example, when we had Aaron Larsuel on the LFR Pod as a guest to give us a peek behind the curtain of this year’s Lakers from his vantage point as a team employee, he told a great story about AD talking to Vogel and LeBron about a specific coverage they should deploy on a late game Luka Doncic P&R.
In the end, from a fan’s perspective, I’m happy to hear insight like what Dudley (and Larsuel) provide about what AD is like as a leader behind the scenes. I think him taking on this type of a role, whether it’s front facing where we can all see it or not, is important for the Lakers not only should the games resume for this season, but beyond (assuming he returns as a free agent this summer).