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LeBron James denies wanting to play for Cavaliers again, says he has faith Lakers front office can build contender around him

LeBron James says his comments this week — interpreted as a desire to play for the Cavaliers again, and shade at the Lakers — were taken out of context and “twisted.”

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There has been plenty written over the last week about LeBron James, and the perceived shade he has been throwing at the Lakers while appearing to flirt with the Cavaliers. The noise got so loud, in fact, that his agent, Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, had to attempt to quiet things down by speaking to multiple media outlets about an air-clearing session he had with general manager Rob Pelinka and team governor Jeanie Buss on Tuesday, insisting everything is hunky dory between all the sides.

After the team’s loss to the Clippers on Friday, James got his first chance to respond to speak to the media about all of it, and spent about 10 minutes mostly saying his remarks were taken out of context. In the spirit of good faith, then, I will be presenting his response to everything here in full context. So here is a transcript of James’ responses to the questions he was asked, lightly edited for length and clarity, with some brief reaction to each, starting with his longest answer of the evening.

LeBron, stepping away from tonight’s game, obviously the dominant conversation over the last week has kind of stemmed from some of your comments over All-Star weekend, leading to speculation about your future. But the question I have is ‘what is your level of confidence that the Lakers’ front office can put championship contending rosters around you for as long as you’re here?’

“Very confident. I mean, they’ve done it. They’ve shown me that... Ever since I got here, the front office, Jeanie, Linda, Kurt and everybody has welcomed me with open arms. And has given me an opportunity to play for a historical franchise and welcomed my family in, and I just try to give back to the game and inspire kids and inspire people that want to follow the Lakers and put them back at a level that they’re accustomed to being. And that’s always been my focus.

“I don’t understand how some of my comments over the weekend were taken to a whole different area... I never said I could see myself playing in a Cavaliers uniform. I talked to Jason Lloyd [of The Athletic] and he asked me, and I said ‘well, I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but actually me playing for the Cavs, I don’t know. I don’t know about that. Could I see myself retiring as a Cav?’ And he asked me, like ‘what if you just came here and signed for a day and retired as a Cav?’ And I said ‘that possibly could be.’

“And then things about my son, me wanting to play with my son wherever he’s at, like you guys take my words and just twist them to different places where they shouldn’t go. Like if I comment or compliment the GM that’s in OKC. I really believe that he’s done a phenomenal job. And you guys spin that to me saying that Rob is not doing a great job. Or if I say the GM from the Rams, I loved his fuckin T-shirt. I thought it was dope. And I believe the same way. I don’t care about picks. I only care about winning championships. How is that directed at Rob and the Lakers’ franchise? Rob has done the same thing. He went and got AD, he didn’t care about picks as well, obviously.

“So it’s so weird that you guys can take — not you guys, whoever started this whole thing — and Bill doesn’t like the Lakers anyways. So it’s always going to be a negative anytime Bill says anything about the Lakers. So I hope no one in the Lakers faithful listens to Bill Oram [of The Athletic]. I hope not. He hasn’t said one great thing about the Lakers, in so long. OK.”

OK. So a couple of things here, for context. At the end there, James was smiling and looking right at Oram as he delivered that last part, so you can judge for yourself in the video how seriously he meant that rebuke. Also, I’m not going to lie, I laughed when he mentioned Jeanie Buss and The Rambii but not Rob Pelinka at first, before later praising Rob.

As for the rest of it, James’ full quote in The Athletic’s story about a possible Cavaliers return was “The door’s not closed on that... I’m not saying I’m coming back and playing, I don’t know. I don’t know what my future holds. I don’t even know when I’m free.”

So, to be as fair as possible, it would also be possible to interpret his quotes the way he says, if the line of questioning he claims went on is accurate.

But that said... while James is literally accurate that him saying that about the Cavs, and that he wants to play with his son, and praising Les Snead on Twitter for saying “f--- them picks,” and redirecting a question about Josh Giddey to glow about Sam Presti, and praising Cavaliers GM Koby Altman could all be viewed innocently enough in a vacuum, it was hard not to see them as a trend when they were coming so closely together after the Lakers made no moves at the trade deadline.

Famous people love complaining they were taken “out of context” when their remarks don’t get the reaction they wanted, but in the full context of everything, James’ message appears to have been pretty clear, even if he’s claiming it wasn’t one he intended to deliver. But he’s not an idiot. James is one of the most image savvy players the NBA has ever seen, someone who has been at this for decades. He knows how people will take his words. The idea that all these comments in conjunction with each other were just some coincidence the media ran with is, well, dubious.

But I digress. Maybe he really just did like Les Snead’s fuckin shirt. Moving on...

For clarity’s sake there then, is this a team you see yourself playing with beyond...

“This is a franchise I see myself being with.”

Beyond your contract?

“I’m here. I’m here. You guys, I continue to tell you guys, Dave [McMenamin of ESPN] knows me more than any one of your guys, and I’ll tell you, I literally live in the moment. I do. I live in the moment. And I see myself being with the purple and gold as long as I can play. But also, I have a goal that if it’s possible, and I don’t even know if it’s possible, but if I can play with my son, I would love to do that... That’s like the coolest thing that could possibly happen. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to be with this franchise.”

Fair enough. That’s not exactly a commitment to stay past his contract, but James doesn’t really owe anyone that today anyway. And he’s right. Who wouldn’t want to play with their son in a professional sports league if they could make their own career last long enough.

So, moving on...

LeBron, you’re talking about how you and the front office and ownership are on good terms. There was a report by ESPN and The Athletic that Rich met with the franchise this week while you were on your break. Why did you think that was important, and why did that have to happen?

“I heard it just like you guys heard it. You guys saw the report. You guys saw the report. I was literally just trying to get away from the game as much as I could before this later stage takes over. But I think it’s always important that it always stays transparent between us, and we don’t really care about the outside noise. To be honest, I think a lot of people are just jealous of the relationship that Rich has with this front office and this team, and the relationship that I have that I’ve grown over the last four years. I mean, that’s what I think that boils down to.”

James is not wrong that there are NBA power brokers who are probably jealous of the close relationship he and Klutch Sports have fostered with the Lakers since the team signed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to open that relationship up the year before James arrived. But also, lol at the idea that his agent and close friend met with the Lakers to discuss his remarks over the past week on Tuesday and James didn’t find out about until everyone else heard the news on Friday. Come on, man.

But that aside, James wrapped up by pushing back on the idea that he built this roster, putting that squarely on the front office, even while admitting they ask him for his opinions.

LeBron, it seems like a lot of this boils down to that this season has been what it’s been...

“That’s exactly what it is.”

...and I guess what I’m wondering is, as somebody who was active in putting this all together, and is seemingly going to be active in trying to figure this all out, how does all that sit with you, the beyond the court stuff? The other facets of your role in this organization and certain responsibility for some of this?

“What do you mean by that? My responsibility is to lead this team out every single night.”

But you’ve taken an active role, right? In what this team should look like, how it should play and what it should be like? And I guess this year, it’s presenting you with struggles that you haven’t had, maybe since your second year in the league, you haven’t been in this type of position.

“Record-wise, I agree.”

Does that kind of responsibility of pushing the right buttons, does that make the winning or losing harder?

“Well, first of all, I don’t push the buttons. They ask for my opinion, and I voice my opinion and what I believe. But I don’t press any buttons. That’s what our front office is for, that’s what our leadership group is for. I don’t press no buttons. So we can state that right now. I do wish that we were just playing better basketball, and between me, AD and Russ on the floor at the same time, I think there’s less than 15 games this season. And that’s the biggest disappointment so far that us three, because we all wanted to see this work, and we just haven’t been on the floor. I don’t know how many games it’s been, I think it’s less than 15. 17? That’s pretty bad when you only got 20-some games left.”

So there you have it. James didn’t push buttons to build this roster, didn’t take any shots at the Lakers over the past week, and the big bad media just made much ado about nothing. Glad we could settle all that. Hopefully now, we can finally, mercifully, move past it. At least for the rest of the season.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.