LeBron James wants his respect — he made that clear after he won his fourth championship in October. However, he didn’t just demand respect for himself; he also demanded respect for the Los Angeles Lakers.
That might sound ironic because of how popular James and the Lakers are globally, but James had his reasons for feeling that way and he laid them all out on the “Road Trippin’” podcast with Allie Clifton, Channing Frye and Richard Jefferson.
The Lakers weren’t the Lakers of old when James inked a four-year, $154 million with them in 2018. The players were young and inexperienced, and so were the people they had in key leadership positions, from Luke Walton, a first-time head coach, to Rob Pelinka, a first-time general manager.
James knew that, but he was confident that they’d be able to turn things around with him there, as he explained on the podcast:
“Obviously, the Lakers have been shitted on for the last five-to-seven years, and rightfully so ... maybe longer. But it was a shit show from the outside looking in, and then when I actually got in it, it was, and I wanted to be part of the change. This is the change. The Lakers want their respect.”
Things got worse before they got better, but James’ gamble ultimately paid off in the form of another championship ring and, most recently, a two-year, $85 million extension from the Lakers. It’s safe to say the respect is mutual between James and the Lakers.
In 2017, Jeanie Buss made the difficult decision to relieve her brother Jim of his duties as the Lakers’ president of basketball operations. She also fired the team’s longtime general manager Mitch Kupchak.
Since then, she’s made all of the basketball decisions for the Lakers, which made her the first person to get praised when things went right, and the first person to get heavily criticized when things went wrong. Last season, almost everything went wrong for the Lakers.
Not only did the Lakers miss the playoffs in their first season with James on the roster, but Magic Johnson, who Buss hand-picked to take over as the team’s vice president of basketball operations, abruptly resigned at the end of the 2018-19 season. When it rained, it poured.
But Buss kept her head down, stuck to her guns and helped rebuild the Lakers into a championship-winning basketball organization. For all of the aforementioned reasons, James wants Buss to get her flowers:
“She’s the first female [owner] to win a championship. She took over and obviously people know the story with her brothers and all of that stuff, but more importantly, she just wanted to grab the Laker franchise. She had grown up under the late, great Dr. Buss and knew what it took to win and got it to that point. Love it or hate it, give her her respect.”
After last season, I think people will think twice before questioning Buss’s ability to run a basketball team.
Rob Pelinka inherited the vice president of basketball operations position when Johnson stepped down, to the chagrin of many Lakers fans.
Pelinka only had a few months of experience as a basketball executive, and the moves he made under Johnson were questionable at best. For the most part, though, Pelinka was able to gain Lakers fans’ trust by making one move Johnson couldn’t: a trade for Anthony Davis.
Pelinka followed that blockbuster trade by building the perfect team around his new superstar tandem, even when the season got going. He didn’t miss a beat, and James wants him to get his recognition:
“Obviously Rob Pelinka has been shitted on for the last few years, either with his relationship with Magic, or whatever the case may be. ‘He’s only the GM because of Kobe and his relationship with Kobe.’ Whatever. Whatever you say. He built a championship team. We won a championship.”
If Lakers fans weren’t convinced that Pelinka was capable of making the right decisions before, they should be now.
Frank Vogel wasn’t supposed to be the Lakers’ head coach — Tyronn Lue was, but at the last minute, negotiations between Lue and the Lakers fell apart because they couldn’t agree on the length of the contract or the coaching staff.
Once it became clear Lue was no longer an option, the Lakers quickly moved onto Frank Vogel, who was fired by the Orlando Magic in 2018. Vogel’s last head coaching stint, and his limited experience with James, didn’t inspire confidence among the Lakers’ fan base. For a while, the expectation was that Vogel was just a placeholder for Jason Kidd.
Fast-forward a year later, Kidd is still an assistant coach, despite interest from other teams around the league, and Vogel is a championship-winning head coach thanks to his own ability to lead on and off the court. He wasn’t the hire that anyone expected — or wanted, really — but it’s clear he was the right hire, and James said as much on the podcast:
“They believe he was a second fiddle for the Lakers job. ‘It should have been T. Lue.’ Obviously we know what happened with that. He put us in position, he made the right play calls, he made the right adjustments when we played. ‘JaVale was starting? Okay, well we play this team, I need Dwight in here. I need Kieff in this series. In the Houston series, JaVale, Dwight, this is not the series for you. Kieff, AD you guys gotta dominate the interior. AC, now you have to start. In the Finals, AC, I need you start on one of the guards.’ He made those adjustments, he won a championship.”
Vogel didn’t win the Coach of the Year Award last season, and it’s possible that he never does, but it’s safe to assume he’d rather have a championship than a regular season award.
The Lakers are always going to have their detractors because, well, they’re the Lakers, but it’s not adoration that James wants for his team; it’s respect. And if one championship didn’t get them their respect, maybe two will.