When Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers signed LeBron James in free agency this summer, there was first a rush of people saying that the team was now a championship contender, and then a rush to push back against the idea that the the Lakers would have even the smallest shot to beat the Golden State Warriors.
The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. No, the Lakers aren’t true title contenders this year unless something goes truly wrong in Golden State. However, they have the best player in the world on their team now, and thus they always have a shot, even if it’s not a particularly good one.
But a chance is a chance, which is perhaps why Johnson sounded so excited for the season to start even when asked about the Warriors’ additions to their roster during an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live:
“I love competition, and I love chasing the best. They’re the best so we’ll look forward to playing against them.”
And when asked if he thinks the Lakers could beat Golden State right now, Johnson didn’t predict a victory, but he appears to be chomping at the bit to see if the Lakers can pull off something many consider impossible:
”I think that we’ll look forward to that challenge. Everybody expects Golden State to win again but I would love to have the challenge to play them in the Western Conference Finals if we can get to that position. I’m a competitor, so I’m not scared of Golden State. I’m not worried about Golden State. They don’t keep me up at night. I know that we have a really solid team, a good team, and a tough-minded team. And we got guys now who are winners.”
”LeBron James brings a championship mentality to our team. So does (Rajon) Rondo, he’s won a championship with Boston. And then JaVale McGee, he used to play for Golden State, he’s won two championships.”
As Johnson mentioned, the Lakers have LeBron James on their team now, and so Johnson’s desire to win this year is understandable not just because he’ll make the Lakers a lot better, but also because James has entrusted the remainder of his prime to Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka. With that trust comes the understanding that they would be doing James a disservice if they didn’t build the kind of team that they felt could at least challenge the two-time defending champs.
The Lakers very well may not beat Golden State this season, but they’ve made it very clear they intend to try. Their unique team-building strategy to do so may not be enough, but with at least two years left with James after this season and enough cap space to add another max contract next summer, the Lakers don’t have to knock off the Warriors this season. They just have to try, and Johnson has made it clear they aren’t scared to do so.
You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.