As soon as LeBron James commits to any team, expectations immediately go through the roof. He’s a walking title berth in the Eastern Conference and at least worth a ticket to the postseason in the west. But when asked about what he’s expecting as he gets ready to embark on the next few years as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, he was quick to manage the narrative around his new team.
Any kind of wins total, playoff or title aspirations are besides the point for James. He told media in Cleveland that he’s starting with creating a culture from which those things can be made possible and when asked about it after opening a school in his native Akron, Ohio. (via NBA TV):
“My expectations are for the team, we don’t have any right now. But we definitely want to be better than we were after the previous year, and we want to have championship (habits). You guys know me when it comes to championship habits, that doesn’t mean you bring a championship, but it does mean you practice excellence every day.
“I expect that not only from myself but from my teammates. That’s what Jeanie and that’s what Magic and Rob want, that’s what Luke is going to want and we shouldn’t sell ourselves short of that. I think there is going to be months where we’re really good, there’s going to be months where we’re not so good and that’s going to come from familiarity.
His point on familiarity is important, because as James pointed out, there isn’t a whole lot of continuity on this roster:
“We’re all new to each other besides Ball, Ingram, Kuz, Hart, Zubac. I believe that’s the returning class that’s there, but everybody else is new to the system, so we’ll see what happens with that.
Editor’s Note: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Alex Caruso and Luol Deng are also returning.
“But as far us as, there’s no reason that you become a Laker, you become a Yankee, you become part of Man U, you become part of some franchise or clubs and you don’t think about winning championships or winning at the highest level. That’s what the history is all about.”
He then expanded upon that point in an interview with Rachel Nichols of ESPN, making it clear title contention will be “the goal” at some point.
RN: And you’ve made a long-time commitment to these guys, a four-year contract. How confident are you that sometime in this four years you will be in the Finals again? You could win another championship?
LJ: That’s the goal.
RN: That’s not the question.
LJ: Listen, I plan and I train and I set my mind every single day to play for championships. And Magic and Jeanie and Rob, they believe the same thing. So when you’re around people who have the same goal in mind, you can live with the result.
Managing expectations with such a young team is going to be critical given not just the state of the players’ development but also the hunger from a Lakers fan base that hasn’t sniffed the playoffs in half a decade. By outlining intangible goals, James offers the team the ability to reach those of the tangible nature more organically and any stumbles early on in the process can be chalked up to growing pains.
Of course LeBron is focused on winning a championship as a Laker. Of course it’s going to take time to build this team the right way so any success attained while he’s in Los Angeles can be sustainable at the end of his tenure and hopefully beyond it.
Hell, it would shock me if he hasn’t expressed more definitive goals with the team and organization, but making those goals known publicly doesn’t really do much but heap on more pressure to a team that has been basically devoid of expectations for the entirety of its young core’s careers.
James has done a masterful job at steering the narrative where he wants it to go throughout his time in the NBA. This is just the latest example of knowing exactly what not to say.