For the first time since 2005, LeBron James will be watching the NBA Playoffs from the comfort of his home, which has put pressure on the Lakers to do everything in their power to make sure it doesn’t happen again while he’s in Los Angeles. So far, there aren’t a ton of reasons to be optimistic about the future of the franchise.
Yes, the Lakers will be equipped with enough cap space to pair James with an All-Star free agent like Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard or Kyrie Irving, but they have more than their fair share of internal problems they have to take care of before they go star chasing.
Is Luke Walton the right guy to lead a star-driven Lakers team? Does the young core feel like a valued part of the organization? Are the two guys in charge really the best people for the job? Those are the types of questions that well-ran organizations have answered already, and that the Lakers still have to figure out.
But in spite of the uncertainty surrounding the team, James told Allie Cliffton of Spectrum SportsNet in a one-on-one interview that he has complete faith in the front office to turn things around:
“I wouldn’t have came here if I didn’t believe that this franchise was all about winning, and trying to do it every day and become a sustainable franchise. That’s what this is all about. I mean we see these trophies right here. We see these banners. When we got to Staples Center we see the banners, we see all the former greats that played this game, so some things that’s known don’t even need to be said.
"I believe Jeanie [Buss], Linda [Rambis], Magic [Johnson] and Rob [Pelinka], and everybody that has anything to do with this organization ... This is what it’s about. And it’s absolutely fair that our fans feel the way they feel. Because when you are a Los Angeles Laker, and you’ve done the things that you’ve done, over the course of time of part of being a part of this organization, all the way from Minneapolis all the way to Los Angeles, that’s how it should be.
"It’s like we’re either competing for a championship, or we’re winning championships. And I love that. That’s why I’m here. Because I want to be one that can add to this room in here, and hopefully add to the banners of the individuals that helped bring greatness to this city.”
The quickest way back to contention is pairing James with another All-Star. It’s a proven formula, and one that the Lakers are hoping to experience firsthand next season. But why is James, at 34 years old, so confident he can recruit big name free agents to sunny Los Angeles, CA?
For him, the answer is as simple as making the extra pass:
“Because I play the game the right way. It’s never about me. No one has ever actually asked any of my teammates ‘how is it to play with LeBron? What is it like to play with LeBron as a teammate?’ Then you’ll get the answer. You’ll get the answer that easy.”
James isn’t sure who he’s going to team up with this summer, but he’s looking forward to finding out:
“I’m looking forward to seeing who jumps in the car with me to take this ride to the top. I know what I bring to the game. I know my commitment to the game, I’ve never cheated the game and throughout my career, it’s always given back to me. That’s not saying I’m guaranteeing a championship, but I am guaranteeing my body, I’m guaranteeing my mind will be — and always be — a championship mindset. Until I’m done.”
The only glimmer of hope Lakers fans have for the immediate future is that James is on the roster for at least two more years, and that while he’s with the team, free agents will have some interest in playing in Los Angeles. Ultimately, it’s up to the front office to target the right players and close the deal, but the outlines of a path forward are clear.
Whether it’s one superstar player or a handful of good veterans, it sounds like James is confident that he can compete with whoever the Lakers land this summer. We'll see if he can by this time next year.
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