The last time NBA fans saw LeBron James and JR Smith share the court as teammates, the Golden State Warriors had just swept the Cleveland Cavaliers to win the 2018 title.
It’s become nearly impossible to imagine Smith and James together without revisiting that series, and specifically, the final play of Game 1. Now immortalized as a popular meme, James’ frustration at Smith’s failure to get a shot off with time expiring has become a meme used to express extreme disappointment in solving an otherwise easy problem.
Now that Smith and James are reunited on the Los Angeles Lakers for the NBA’s restart, the guard has already seen major growth in the star’s leadership in just two years.
“More than anything I just think he’s so much more patient in his delivery and how he goes about the process of the game,” Smith said, per Spectrum Sports’ Mike Trudell. “The pressure is off his shoulders, he can just be him.”
Part of relieving the pressure likely comes with having followed up eight straight trips to the Finals with a 10th-place showing in the Western Conference during his first year with the Lakers in 2018-19 and needing to grow a young team on the fly.
One year, and an Anthony Davis acquisition later, Los Angeles (49-14) is all but locked into the No. 1 seed in the playoffs with a 5.5 game lead over the LA Clippers and eight games to play.
Though he’s joining the team for the playoff run following a months-long hiatus, Smith said James is at ease on the floor and with his teammates, acting less like a traffic cop on offense and more like a teacher:
“He can let the coaches do their job, and I think that’s a true testament to him growing. I’ve watched interviews when people try to say he’s not coachable because he knows so much about the game, but he’s probably the most coachable person out there just because he gives you his side or his opinion and he might be right. More than anything I just think he’s so much more patient in his delivery and how he goes about the process of the game. If he sees something that he don’t like of course he’s going to say something, but I think he gives people more of a chance and an opportunity to voice their opinions and do their job.”
That intensity may ramp up once James returns to the postseason after a year away, but for now, the calm demeanor seems to help veterans and young pros alike.
In only his first few practices since joining the roster, Smith has already noticed the difference.