LeBron James knows the power of his voice. He knows how much people like me will read — and sometimes, admittedly, over read — his each and every word. And, much like the Lakers star has mastered the art of predatorily and preternaturally evaluating defenses for weak points like a seasoned hunter, he has also perfected the skill of dropping plausibly-deniable but no less passive-aggressive burns on people who are technically his employers, but in reality mostly serve his whims.
The latest target of James’ aggressively calm, less-innocuous-than-it-appears derision has been Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka. The former player agent turned Lakers head honcho is no stranger to shade from his star — James once made a fart noise with his mouth to describe the roster Pelinka and Magic Johnson constructed during his first year in purple and gold — and he has once again found himself on James’ shit list due to the Lakers’ poor season.
After not-so-subtly ribbing Pelinka earlier in the week for his inaction at the trade deadline, James continued to praise other sports team executives completely unprompted at NBA All-Star Weekend. Seasoned James observer Dave McMenamin of ESPN was the first to notice the trend during The King’s general media availability on Saturday:
A couple days after LeBron credited Rams GM Les Snead’s “F*** Them Picks” method of building a champion, LeBron used a question about Josh Giddey to speak about how impressed he is by Thunder GM Sam Presti’s work in OKC. The backdrop: Rob Pelinka made no moves at the deadline— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) February 19, 2022
A lot of Lakers fans got mad about Dave’s read on Twitter, but while sure, we can all pretend that James just really loves and respects the draft work of Sam Presti, going out of his way in a question about Josh Giddey to praise an opposing executive for finding talent does not feel like an accident given the message James has been trying to send for weeks (via the NBA’s official transcripts):
Q. Just wondering, you, obviously have a huge emphasis on the youth coming through. There’s a 19-year-old Australian named Josh Giddey. What do you make of him so far?
LEBRON JAMES: He is really, really, really good. He has a great pace about the game. Great vision. I’ve always loved pass-first guards who can see plays happen before they happen. Josh is one of those kids who can definitely see the game a lot quicker than a lot of guys out on the floor, and he has shown it. I think he has three straight triple-doubles and playing beautiful basketball.
The MVP over there is Sam Presti. He the MVP. Josh Giddey is great. Sam Presti, I don’t understand, his eye for talent. He drafted KD, Russ, Jeff Green, Serge Ibaka, Reggie Jackson, Josh Giddey and the list goes on and on and on. This guy is pretty damn good.
Lakers’ LeBron James on Thunder GM Sam Presti: “The MVP over there is Sam Presti… I don’t understand this guy’s eye for talent. He drafted KD, Russ, Jeff Green, Serge Ibaka, Reggie Jackson, Josh Giddey. … This guy is pretty damn good.” pic.twitter.com/mNb35Ggi6P— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) February 19, 2022
I can’t decide what is funnier: LePassiveAggressive going out of his way to praise yet another executive after his clear and open displeasure with Pelinka’s lack of moves at the deadline, or him skipping drafting James Harden on Presti’s resume. I’m leaning towards not naming Harden, but I could be swayed the other way.
But still, no matter how upset James is or isn’t, his annoyance with not tearing down this roster he pushed to construct, according to multiple reports — even if he also clearly wasn’t holding Pelinka hostage to do so — is hard not to see a little bit like the hot dog guy scene in the masterful Netflix sketch show, “I Think You Should Leave,” in which Tim Robinson, dressed in a hot dog suit, screams “we’re all trying to find the guy who did this” when looking at a hot dog car that crashed into a store.
Like, has this Lakers roster been a disaster? Yes. But it wasn’t just Pelinka who constructed it. Even if everyone is looking to point the finger the other way now, the entire organization made this bed. For at least the rest of the season, they all have to sleep in it.
Beyond that, though? Well, it’s fair to wonder if James may be starting to get a wandering eye. Especially if one just saw this quote that blew up Lakers Twitter on Saturday morning:
LeBron said the #Cavs should be proud to have three All-Stars. Garland, Allen “and me.” pic.twitter.com/u41MNRgkSr— Tom Withers (@twithersAP) February 19, 2022
With the Cavs in fourth place in the East due to the efforts of All-Stars Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen — along with rookie revelation Evan Mobley — there has been much speculation and buzz this season about whether James might consider a third Cleveland stint at some point to wrap up his career. But his actual answer was slightly more innocuous than the above tweet.
Again, James knows the power of his words, and was likely well aware of the buzz they would create, but he also wasn’t necessarily announcing his return to Northeast Ohio just yet:
Q. You have experienced a lot of different All-Star venues. How is Cleveland doing this year?
LEBRON JAMES: I just talked about 25 years ago when I was a kid. I was 12 years old. I was stating that earlier and how I wished I had the means and the ability to come up to Cleveland and just feel that energy and hopefully bump into one of those guys. I had so many dreams of being an All-Star when I was a kid, growing up in Akron and having a team that was 35 minutes north of us, even though as much as I love MJ, love the Bulls, you know, just having that inspiration, having pro teams right up 77 North, you know, and having the Browns and the Indians at the time, now the Guardians and having the Cavaliers. I remember when they were playing not even — a lot closer, Richfield. I remember that.
To sit here 25 years later doing what I love to do, dreaming about what I love to do, believing in what I wanted to be, it’s just unbelievable.
I mean, Cleveland is very deserving of this platform and this moment. They got two All-Stars of their own in the game in D.G. (Darius Garland) and the big fella, Jarrett Allen. And they got another guy in the All-Star, and that’s me. It’s great, man. I’m Pushin’ P, capital P, you know? That’s what I’m doing.
"Cleveland is very deserving of this moment."— NBA (@NBA) February 19, 2022
- @KingJames on why his 18th #NBAAllStar appearance is particularly special.#NBAAllStarPractice presented by @ATT pic.twitter.com/AEKuw8ORwY
Now, some would claim that James was just proud of his hometown, but he has been pretty outspoken that he does not consider Cleveland his actual home, telling Dan Woike of The L.A. Times this week that “I tell people all the time, ‘I’m not from Cleveland.’ There’s no disrespect to Cleveland. But, when you’re from Akron, you’re not from Cleveland... This is where I’m from.” So, yeah. There was likely a bit of a wink-wink, nudge-nudge behind this answer, but again, it’s all plausibly deniable, a Rorschach test that can be read however one wants.
For anyone curious about the rest of what James had to say to open up All-Star weekend before his two most buzzed about quotes above, here is a transcript of his other remarks to the assembled media:
LEBRON JAMES: I’m extremely happy to be here. Obviously, I grew up 35 minutes south of here in Akron, so to be here for an All-Star Weekend with my family and friends just enjoying these last few days has been a pleasure. My high school best friends and the guys that I played with throughout my whole life are out there right now with their families, so just paying it forward to the next generation.
I remember in ‘97 when the last All-Star Game was here, I think I was 12 years old at that point in time. Me and my friends wishing we could come up here to Cleveland and to see the likes of Mike and all those guys that were in that All-Star Weekend. I remember seeing Kobe, his rookie year, win the Dunk Contest, doing the East Bay dunk to win it, and just wishing that we could come up here and see any one of those guys as a youngster. So to be here 25 years later is a remarkable thing. It’s pretty cool.
Q. (No microphone.)
LEBRON JAMES: I’m sorry. Oh, my guys? Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, I mean, I speak to them almost every day. We have that connection and that friendship that’s been going on since we were 9 years old. So, like I said, they’re here. Willie, Sian, Dru, Romeo, Frankie, Brandon, all of us are all here this weekend, and this is the first time we’ve all spent the All-Star Weekend together. So it makes it even more special.
Q. Do you take different approaches to these All-Star Games? How are you going to go about it?
LEBRON JAMES: I have no idea. I think I’ve taken different approaches, just depending how my body was feeling or how the season was going at that point in time. If I needed more rest, then I’m not trying to burn out during the All-Star Game, but at the same time I’m going to give the fans a little bit of something because this is what it’s all about. Just being smart about it, obviously.
I’ve been a part of quite a few of these games, so definitely want to be smart about my minutes and things that I play. It’s the only time and only game throughout the season where I’m okay talking about my minutes.
Q. When you’re around your peers, how often do they talk to you about your recovery regimen? Does that come up a lot?
LEBRON JAMES: No, it hasn’t. We’re all like moving so fast throughout All-Star Weekend. We’ve been pulled and tagged on, and you got to go here, you got to go there, you got to do this, you got to do that, that we don’t always get an opportunity to kind of just like have many conversations. I’ve had a few over my career with a few guys. I won’t name names, but, no, that’s only come up a few times in my career. Yeah.
Q. Are you surprised considering you’re redefining longevity?
LEBRON JAMES: I don’t want to say I’m surprised, but guys — everyone has their own method of how they feel they could create longevity in the sport and make sure their body stays in the top-tier shape. They’re All-Stars for a reason. So they’re doing something right. I feel like guys have their own regimen and things of that nature, but I have never been a closed door when it comes to anything I’ve done in my career.
Q. Obviously, you’re 37, 19th season, talk about that and how much you spend on your body. This year what’s gone into the mental and physical challenges?
LEBRON JAMES: Every season has its own mental and physical challenges. This is no different. This is the strangest season I’ve been a part of so far. I don’t want to just talk about the injuries but COVID protocols. You have guys go out for false positives. You have had guys go out for real reasons. We’ve had our head coach be out for several games. We’ve had injuries. We’ve had a little bit of everything. I mean, I’ve been out at points in time in the season. It’s just been very challenging, very physically and emotionally draining at times, but that’s the NBA season for you. If you are not having your mindset on that happening, then you’re setting yourself up for failure. I’ve always kind of known that’s going to happen at some point throughout the season.
Q. As the leader of the team, what do you feel you need to adjust for this team to get better and try to finish and win a championship?
LEBRON JAMES: I love the way we’ve played the last few games. At the trade deadline, the energy shifted in our locker room and I love the way we’ve played the last couple of games. One resulted in a win. One resulted in a loss in the Bay. But I hope we can continue that same energy, that same connectivity, and as a leader of the team, obviously, it starts and ends with me, and we go from there.
Q. Can you talk to us about the scoring. You’ve been able to pick it up? What about this particular run you are on, how do you explain it?
LEBRON JAMES: I don’t. I can’t. I don’t know. Just in a groove, I guess. I work on my game. I work on my craft. You guys have seen me when you come to practice, and I’m working on my game or before the games or off days. I’m trying to see ways that I can continue to stay in great rhythm and see ways I can continue to get better, even at my age. I’m never satisfied. I can’t explain the groove that I’m in right now offensively. I guess just playing some good basketball.
Just trying to be efficient. Besides the Golden State game the other night, we’ve been extremely efficient, and that’s the most important for me. I’m not just out there jacking up a bunch of shots to be doing it. I want to be efficient when I’m doing it as well.
Q. (Question about Luka Doncic.)
LEBRON JAMES: Because I love everything about his game. I love everything about him. The way he plays the game reminds me of the way I play the game. We’re just triple threats. We rebound. We pass, which is the number one thing on our mind, trying to keep our teammates engaged and keeping our teammates feeling good on the floor, keeping our teammates in rhythm. And we will put 40 on you too if you disrespect us.
You can check out the rest of the All-Star weekend schedule at our preview and discussion thread.
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