James announced that he has decided to play for the Lakers on a four-year deal worth $154 million, with a short, subdued press release sent out on the Twitter account belonging to Klutch Sports.
James’s decision came on the first day of free agency, just 20 hours after the market officially opened. In that time, his agent, Rich Paul, had conversations with the Cleveland Cavaliers and reportedly a meeting with the Philadelphia 76ers. James comes to Los Angeles after four years with the Cleveland Cavaliers, during which time he won one championship and went to four NBA Finals.
His decision comes a day after Paul George decided to re-sign with the Oklahoma City Thunder without even taking a meeting with the Lakers, the team he grew up rooting for.
James, who lives in Brentwood in the offseasons, comes to Los Angeles at a time when the Lakers sunk well below the organization’s historic excellence.
For five years the Lakers wandered through an NBA desert, amid the twilight of Kobe Bryant’s career as his body no longer let him be the player who helped lead the Lakers through their last set of glory years. For five years the Lakers couldn’t make the playoffs. In three of those years they set franchise records for futility. The 55 games they lost in the 2013-14, the most ever in the franchise’s history. Until the next year when they lost 61 games and the year after that when they lost 65 games.
No free agent came to save them. But the Lakers front office kept hoping and assuming.
Dwight Howard, then a coveted big man, arrived unwillingly and left as soon as he could in 2013, unmoved by billboards the Lakers unveiled in the summer of 2013 that said, “Stay.” Carmelo Anthony didn’t come in 2014. DeAndre Jordan didn’t come in 2015 and LaMarcus Aldridge didn’t like what he heard. Kevin Durant wouldn’t even listen in 2016.
Then the Lakers tied themselves up with bloated and long contracts to Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng, suffocating their own future. That summer, many teams did the same.
All of it fell on the heads of Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak, then the Lakers’ top front office executives. Lakers controlling owner Jeanie Buss fired them in the spring of 2017.
She installed one of her closest friends, Magic Johnson, as the president of basketball operations, fought off an attempted coup from her two older brothers Jim and Johnny, and then took a step back to see what they could do. What she wanted more than anything else was to turn the team her father left her and her siblings back into one that would make him proud.
Maybe a 14-time All-Star, who some argue is the greatest basketball player on earth, can do that.
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