LeBron James leaving a Cleveland Cavaliers team that was just in the NBA Finals to sign with the 35-win Los Angeles Lakers had people
in their feelings scratching their heads. How dare he go from the historical powerhouse that had enjoyed so much success before they drafted him and after he departed the first time for the circus of ineptitude that is the Lakers?
So, as a means to try to figure out what he possibly could have been thinking, business became the driving force in the narrative from those who
hate the Lakers didn’t quite get why he made that decision.
Case in point: This sentiment, brought to you by Dave McNenamin and Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.
“He wanted to come to L.A.,” one Western Conference player said. “They just had to not f--- it up. Jerry West just said it, and I was like, ‘Finally.’ He’s not coming to the Lakers. He came to L.A.”
West, now an adviser for the LA Clippers, told Sports Illustrated that, “LeBron was not a tough free-agent signing.” While the player’s swipe -- like West’s -- was aimed more at the Lakers than at James, the four-time MVP also had his motives for the move questioned.
At least West put his name on it. Can’t say the same for these other
cowards NBA entities.
“They will be good, but I would be surprised if they make the top four in the West,” one Western Conference assistant coach told ESPN.
Added a Western Conference front-office executive, “I view the Lakers team next year as a playoff team because LeBron is still the best player in basketball but not a true championship contender for a season. But [they are] set up very well to be one in the coming years.”
Nuance is hard, but for some reason, people are acting like the fact that LeBron will have access to opportunities to spread his business roots in ways he wouldn’t be able to while playing for another franchise or in another city means he’s completely thrown any opportunity at winning a title out the window.
Are the Lakers immediate and legitimate title contenders in the same way the Philadelphia 76ers or Houston Rockets might have been had James opted to play out there? Of course not, but acting as if they’re somehow hopeless in that regard is disingenuous to the point of being intellectually dishonest.
Had James gone to Houston and he, Chris Paul and James Harden fallen short of the Warriors, there would have been precious few ways to improve that roster in meaningful enough ways to actually challenge Golden State. Compare that to the amount of flexibility the Lakers have (as pointed out by that anonymous executive) and the choice makes a little more sense.
In Philly, if Ben Simmons never learns to shoot (no guarantee) and Joel Embiid suffered another injury, then what? Yes, there are fairly nice peripheral pieces on that roster, but they’re also the kinds of players the Lakers could pretty easily replicate or improve on out here.
The Lakers make business sense for LeBron, but that doesn’t have to mean he made purely a business decision, and the boost the Lakers offer is a result of the organization’s tremendously successful history. It might just be that LeBron trusts the franchise to get back to the heights its fan base expects.
This is, after all, how mutually beneficial partnerships work.