Stephen A. Smith: Kobe Bryant Holding LeBron James Accountable for Lakers Issues

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistMarch 20, 2019

** FILE ** In this July 31, 2008, file photo, U.S. Olympic basketball team players Kobe Bryant, left, and LeBron James watch the game against Turkey in Macau. The United States won the gold in men's basketball at the Olympics in August. How many of the best players on this team will be back for the 2012 Olympics and does USA Basketball continue to require a three-year commitment from them? The players have served the time Jerry Colangelo, USA Basketball's managing director, required of them for the 2008 Games and are now free to enjoy their summers. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, File)
Kin Cheung/Associated Press

ESPN analyst Stephen A. Smith said he believes Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant is holding current Lakers superstar LeBron James accountable behind the scenes. 

Smith shared his view of the situation on Wednesday's edition of First Take:

"I think he's holding LeBron accountable. I think he's looking at LeBron James and saying, 'OK, the heat is rising. Excuse me this ain't Cleveland, 30 minutes from where you grew up. This ain't Miami. This is Laker Nation. Excuse me, we are about championships with this franchise. You don't get to get a pass.' That's not what he said, but I'm telling you that's how he feels."

The Lakers have failed to reach expectations after signing James to a four-year, $153.3 million contract in free agency last offseason. L.A. owns a 31-40 record, including a 1-9 mark in its past 10 games, and will soon be mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.

It's hard to blame the struggles entirely on LeBron, though.

The four-time MVP is averaging 27.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, 8.0 assists and 1.3 steals while shooting 51.4 percent from the field across 51 appearances. He ranks sixth among all players in ESPN's real plus-minus and seventh in player efficiency rating.

Bryant has remained mostly quiet publicly about the Lakers' issues. In December, Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times noted the five-time NBA champion expressed confidence the James-led Lakers will eventually win a title, though.

"Of course they will. Of course they will," Kobe said. "They have determination to figure it out. They will figure it out. They have talented pieces …. So enjoy the journey because we'll be champions before you know it. Then we'll just be laughing at all the Warrior fans."

Smith's comments suggest Bryant might be sounding a different tune privately, however.