During his “First Take” interview on ESPN, Johnson gave his rationale for why James should want to stay in Los Angeles:
”Because he has a chance to turn it around. Listen, the young core is special. The young core is special. And if you put, I don’t care who the free agent is, one of those free agents. Kyrie, Kawhi, one of those guys... The Lakers are right back in it. Because there is one special team, and that’s Golden State. Everybody else is about even. And they’re not special. There’s one special team, that’s the Golden State Warriors.”
First of all, the fact that James still has to turn things around is an indictment on the situation Johnson left him in. Nevertheless, it is refreshing to hear Johnson laud the potential of the young core in a context other than trade discussions, and he definitely isn’t overselling the potential of the Lakers. At their best, this is a team that put a scare in the Warriors, the Houston Rockets, and the Milwaukee Bucks, and the trajectory is on the way up.
But the only success that resonates in Los Angeles is winning a championship — this is a franchise that doesn’t hang division or conference banners. As for whether LeBron can win a title for the Lakers, provided he gets some help, Johnson had this to say:
“It’s gonna happen. It’s gonna happen. And just like me going back to my business and doing what I’m doing, LeBron’s going to win that chip. He’s going to be in that room recruiting, the Lakers got to decide it’s got to be Jeanie, LeBron and Rob, and probably Frank (in the room). That’s it.”
Hold on, wasn’t Magic’s whole point that he didn’t give up his business while he was running the Lakers?
Setting that aside, it’s clear that the success of the Lakers this season will come down to whether they can sign a superstar this offseason. Plenty of names have been linked to Los Angeles due to the allure of playing alongside James and vaulting this team into contention.
James famously stepped aside during the team’s head coaching search and hasn’t given any public opinions on the instability within the front office itself. But he definitely isn’t going to take a backseat when it comes to building this roster as he nears the end of his career and is forced to face his basketball mortality.
Johnson said a lot of speculative things during his ESPN’s “First Take” appearance, but LeBron staying in Los Angeles to try to win with the ‘special’ young core might have been the most reasonable. The Lakers have to hope that he at least got this part right.