All season long, and especially in recent weeks, LeBron James has been making it clear that he is sick and tired of playing losing basketball with the Lakers. From telling the media to ask general manager Rob Pelinka about potentially dealing the team’s tradeable first-round picks to a recent postgame diatribe in Miami in which he declared that “playing basketball at this level just to be playing basketball is not in my DNA,” James has hardly been subtle about his discontent with the current state of affairs in Los Angeles.
As friend of the site Jorge Sedano of ESPN and my colleague Anthony Irwin talked about on our podcast this week, James hasn’t just been leaving breadcrumbs, he’s been leaving the whole loaf of bread. And occasionally trying to hit the front office with a stale baguette for good measure.
Why are we bringing this up right after the Lakers won their fourth game in a row? Well, because prior to that game, James did an interview with Dave McMenamin of ESPN. In that sitdown, James once again made it crystal clear that — despite signing a maximum contract extension past the date that would have allowed him to ask for a trade this season and before the Lakers had made any real moves — he is not interested in #ChasingKareem while losing games with this current roster.
“I want to win. [The losing is] not sitting well with me,” James said. “I don’t like having accomplishments, and it don’t feel right, when it comes in a losing effort. ... So as we sit here right now as a franchise and as a team that’s below .500 - we’ve been playing some good basketball as of late, but we want to and I want to win at the highest level. Breaking records or setting records or passing greats in a losing effort has never been a DNA of mine.”
To illustrate his point, James explained how he decided to sit out the last five games of last season to rehabilitate an ankle injury after L.A. was already eliminated from postseason contention, rather than come back and play two more games just to have played enough of the season to be eligible to win the scoring title. James averaged 30 points per game in his 19th season.
“Me being out on the floor, trying to get the scoring [title] in games that don’t matter, it felt so corny to me. So, I was like, I’m not even going [to play],” he said. “So that has never mattered to me unless it was about winning.”
Was this just preemptive damage control to avoid anyone minimizing his upcoming career-long achievement of passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer by pointing out it came in another potentially lost season? Is James just trying to keep the pressure on the front office to make a move? I can’t say for sure, and possibly both reasons and more.
But whatever the reasoning — as Kyle Goon of The O.C. Register summarized well after James made his comments in Miami — the Lakers star has not really made any effort to keep his discontent with the team’s current state of affairs quiet from the very start of the season.
A selection of his verbal subtweets:
– “I mean, to be completely honest, we’re not a team that’s constructed of great shooting. And that’s just what the truth of the matter is. It’s not like we’re sitting here with a lot of lasers on our team.”
– “Definitely not comparing us to (Milwaukee). That is a well-oiled machine. That group has been playing together for quite a while – got so many minutes logged, so many games logged. We’re not there.”
So yes, James clearly would prefer for the Lakers to focus on putting together the best roster logistically possible in a wide-open Western Conference rather than hoard their two currently tradeable picks. And for whatever Pelinka’s word is worth, the freshly extended executive said back on media day that the team was equally committed to doing so in comments he may regret the definitiveness of today (emphasis mine):
“Let me be abundantly clear. We have one of the great players in LeBron James to ever play the game on our team, and he committed to us with a long-term contract, a three-year contract. So of course, we will do everything we can, picks included, to make deals that give us a chance to help LeBron get to the end. He committed to our organization. That’s got to be a bilateral commitment, and it’s there.
“If you make that trade, it has to be the right one, you have one shot to do it. So we’re being very thoughtful around the decisions on when and how to use draft capital in a way that will improve our roster. And again, as I started the question by saying, we are committed to doing everything we can to put the best team around LeBron as long as it’s a smart trade because of the limitations caused by the Stepien rule and the implications of that.”
Is that commitment still there? I have no idea, and frankly, we’ve been debating this same hypothetical since the summer. I’m tired. The team’s inaction, procrastination and anonymous dithering through seemingly endless leaks about new self-imposed deadlines to (not) make moves so far would suggest they do not think James and Anthony Davis are worth investing in, and are looking for any excuse not to do so. However, there is still time before the Feb. 9 trade deadline for them to make a move.
Will they? Who knows at this point. All we know for sure is that it certainly seems like LeBron would like them to. In case there was even any lingering doubt about that.