Twice this season, LeBron James has been asked for his thoughts on the Los Angeles Lakers adding Carmelo Anthony via a trade or free agency. The first time, James said it wasn’t up to him, and the second time he reiterated that point while also saying he’d like to play with his friend.
But despite those repeated — and increasingly enthusiastic — comments about Melo making it appear like James might be trying to get his friend on the roster, he told Rachel Nichols of ESPN that isn’t the case:
“Listen, it’s just my opinion. It’s not like I’m lighting a fire under anybody’s ass, it’s just my opinion. People ask me questions ... ‘Would it be great to have Carmelo Anthony be on the Lakers?’ I believe Melo can still play the game, I believe I can help Melo. I know Melo better than Melo knows himself at times and vice versa. So if the opportunity presents itself I would welcome it.”
There are two competing schools of thought on this. On one hand, James has a point: He can only answer the questions he’s asked. He’s also unlikely to ever say he doesn’t want to play with one of his best friends, no matter what he privately thinks of Anthony’s game.
Still, James knows the power of his voice. He doesn’t have to answer these questions in the way he’s answering them. He knows the speculation it will trigger when he does. Even in this attempt at clarification to Nichols, he ratchets up the level of endorsement he’s giving Anthony, directly stating for the first time that he thinks he can make Anthony better.
The latter might be true, but the point is that by answering these questions, and doing so with enthusiasm, James knows what he’s doing. By giving air to the idea of adding Anthony, he makes it a story and puts some level of pressure on the front office to add his friend. That’s just the way it is, even if he wants to say that he’s just answering questions that he’s asked.
The difference between here and Cleveland is that James doesn’t have the guillotine blade of an opt-out clause at the end of the season to position over the front office. Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka no doubt want to keep their star player happy, but they have to do what’s best for the team as well, even if James is mentioning his age in interviews like the one above and talking about how the Lakers don’t have forever to win.
James is right about that final point, but it’s also not eminently clear that Anthony would help the Lakers get victories, whether James thinks he could benefit the team or not.
Anthony also doesn’t really play a position of need for the Lakers, and him coming in and taking minutes from Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma wouldn’t be a good thing for the team in the long term — or potentially in the short term, either.
The way James continues to talk about Anthony — the tone and tenor of the comments, as well as the fact that he keeps answering questions about Anthony — make it seem as though he wants to push the Lakers towards signing or dealing for his buddy. While doing so might not be the worst move in the world, and James might actually be able to get more out of Anthony than anyone at his last two stops could, it’s still not a certainty that Anthony will be a boon for a team that might not have obvious playing time for him.
And if the Lakers were to bring in James’ friend and bench him, that would lead to a whole other set of problems. Because of that, as well as the fact that Anthony has gone nearly half a decade since his last effective basketball, the Lakers are probably better off not caving to pressure from their star in this particular case, even if he’s making that a little more difficult.
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