Eyebrows were raised at the transactions the Los Angeles Lakers made after agreeing to sign LeBron James.
A cast of some of the NBA’s most erratic players and characters were slated to join James in L.A., led by Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee and Rajon Rondo.
While Rondo has leadership pedigree on a championship team, it’s still a group collectively better known for blooper reels than contributions to the game.
Surely the Lakers could come up with a better plan to build around James. But there’s no way they made those moves without LeBron’s blessing, right?
Magic confirms LeBron influenced roster moves
Apparently they didn’t. While many speculated that James had something to do with the new Lakers blueprint, team president of basketball operations Magic Johnson confirmed as much on Tuesday while speaking with L.A. SportsNet’s Mike Bresnahan.
“LeBron’s won championships, been to eight straight Finals,” Johnson told Bresnahan. “You think (general manager) Rob (Pelinka) and I are not going to ask him? No, we’re going to definitely ask him his opinion because he knows those players better than us.”
So now the signings makes sense. Kind of.
The Lakers agreeing to bring in the teammates that James wants as part of the transaction to attract the world’s best player makes perfect sense. James looking to that motley crew still begs an explanation.
LeBron’s spotty record of team building
For all of James’ well-deserved praise as a player and businessman, LeBron the pseudo-general manager has a spotty track record. Sure, he helped facilitate the core of the Miami Heat roster with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh that won two championships.
He also pressured the Cleveland Cavaliers to give Tristan Thompson a five-year, $82 million deal and strong-armed the team into re-upping with J.R. Smith, a player represented by his own agent and friend Rich Paul.
“I hate coming into another season — two years in a row — with one of my big guns not here,” James said of Smith in 2016 while he was in a contract stalemate with the Cavs. “So, for a leader of a team and for me personally, I just hate to deal with this s— again.”
Thompson went on to languish on the bench last season, while James didn’t appear to feel quite so positive about his “big gun” after Game 1 of the 2018 Finals.
But when you have a chance to sign James, you roll with his roster suggestions if it gets him in your building. Pelinka confirmed with Bresnahan that the Lakers did just that in a plan that was hashed out for months.
Magic leaning on past lessons from playing days
Johnson, whom James has been compared to for most of his career as a player and now as a businessman, told Bresnahan that consulting James was part of a lesson he learned as a player under late former Lakers owner Jerry Buss.
“I learned from Dr. Buss that you should always include (star) players,” Johnson said. “When (former GM) Jerry West thought about bringing a player in, Dr. Buss would call me, call Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar).”
Johnson is wise to carry those lessons forward and bring James into the fold. But now that James is under contract, how much say will he give James moving forward?
While Magic the player’s legacy is impervious, Magic the executive’s legacy is a clean slate. Johnson’s next wise move may be finding the ability to say to James moving forward.
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