LeBron’s Lakers locked and loaded
My mother always told me, don’t talk about it, be about it.” — LeBron James
by Paul Teetor
“I’m happy to be a Laker,” LeBron James declared as he put down the mic and walked away from the media after baring his soul for 14 long minutes.
James’ horrible, no good, very bad Lakers experience is ancient history.
Although there were no championship predictions made, onward-and-upward was the message from the top-down as more than 200 media members crowded into the Lakers (almost) brand-new headquarters in El Segundo for the team’s annual media day Friday afternoon.
For the first time in seven years, success will be measured as nothing less than contending for a championship. Forget about just making the playoffs. With two of the top five players in the world in James and newly arrived 6-foot-10 forward/center Anthony Davis, returning the Lakers to their rightful place at or near the top of the NBA food chain is the only acceptable finish to the 2019-20 season.
There’s a new defense-first head coach in Frank Vogel, an uber-healthy LeBron after his first full summer off in14 years, a new superstar in Davis to carry the load on both ends of the court, and eight new veterans expected to make the final 15-man roster. Not coincidentally, almost all the young teammates — except for Kyle Kuzma — are gone, having been traded to New Orleans for Davis.
The roster is constructed as a win-now team, especially because they traded away their future to get Davis, who has the contractual right to leave after this season if he doesn’t like the direction of the team.
“I just want to win, that’s all I care about,” Davis said when it was his turn on the media hot seat. He didn’t mention that he had demanded a trade from the Pelicans, where he made the playoffs only twice in eight years.
Before the media mob got to have its 14 minutes with James, Pelinka set the theme and the tone.
“LeBron is locked in,” Lakers General Manager Rob Pelinka Pelinka said. “You can see in his demeanor a seriousness and a focus, you definitely can. Physically, he looks leaned up and locked in, even more, if that’s possible”
James, thoughtful and candid as always — remember, he called President Donald Trump a “bum” long before impeachment became a serious possibility — soon displayed what Pelinka meant.
“I’m very motivated, but I’m right now not in the talking-about-it mode,” he said. “I’ve been very quiet this summer for a reason. My mother always told me, don’t talk about it, be about it.”
Another reason he was so quiet all summer: he was busy making “Space Jam 2,” the sequel to the 1996 Michael Jordan hit film.
Johnson and Pelinka were criticized last season for having a team whose pieces didn’t fit. Not only were LeBron and point guard Rajon Rondo veterans looking to win now while the rest of the team was in development mode, there was little outside shooting to take advantage of the shooting space created by LeBron’s power drives to the hoop.
This summer, Pelinka said, he consulted frequently — sometimes several times a day — with LeBron and Davis while building a roster that will complement their superstars.
The re-built roster includes former All-Star center Dwight Howard, who spent one season with the Lakers seven years ago and couldn’t wait to get out of Dodge and away from Kobe Bryant’s demanding presence.
Since then, Howard has been with five different teams and his reputation for laziness, cluelessness and generally selfish behavior has grown to the point where he had to convince the Lakers execs that he is a changed man.
Oh, and he swore he will accept a non-guaranteed contract that will allow the team to cut him at any time with no financial consequence.
“We had several conversations about being a good teammate and he was willing to play whatever role we wanted,” Pelinka said. “It’s all upside with no downside financially.”
James took that same nothing-but-blue-skies perspective on the up-coming season.
“I’m just trying to refocus myself, refocus my mind and body,” he said. “Me, individually, how I can be a better player, a better leader this year, be as great as I can be, help this franchise to ultimately go where it wants to go.”
Contrast that with last season, the worst in James’ 16-year NBA career. He got injured, he got Coach Luke Walton fired, and hours before the last game the man who convinced him to join the Lakers — the greatest Laker of them all, Magic Johnson — stunned the NBA by quitting as Lakers president with a blast-heard-round-the-world at the Lakers dysfunctional organization. Magic even accused General Manager Rob Pelinka of being a back-stabber who turned other employees against him.
Oh, and James was also accused by team insiders of keeping himself aloof from his young teammates — Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and Kyle Kuzma — once he realized they weren’t ready to win a championship or even make the playoffs. He seemed to confirm it with an infamous picture of him sitting on the very end of the bench, ignoring his teammates, who were as far away as possible.
The Lakers went on to set a team record by missing the playoffs for the sixth consecutive year — the longest such losing streak in team history.
As the nightmare season progressed, Lakers fans speculated that after three titles and eight straight NBA Finals appearances with the Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers, James really didn’t care all that much that the Lakers stunk because his decision to come to LA was more about building his Hollywood career than about winning basketball games.
But it was a new LeBron and a new team that showed up for Lakers Media Day. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
by Paul Teetor