Leading up to free agency, the Los Angeles Lakers were considered the favorites to sign LeBron James if he decided to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers.
However, when free agency officially began, Paul George immediately re-signed with the Oklahoma City Thunder and James’ representatives met with the Philadelphia 76ers. As there were conflicting reports and some concern was building up, James suddenly informed the Lakers he was signing with them as he was boarding a plane to Europe.
Since then, new details have emerged about president of basketball operations Magic Johnson’s role in signing James. In an interview with Chris McGee and Mike Bresnahan on Spectrum SportsNet, Johnson detailed his meeting with the four-time league MVP as transcribed by Mike Trudell of Lakers:
“First of all, Rob and I have been preparing for this for four or five, six months in terms of what would we talk to him about. What did we feel was important to LeBron. We’d been going through so many scenarios, also meeting with Jeanie, talking about what we thought would be important. Then I just, was supposed to be there at 9:01 so I got there at 8:01, so I was going to sit out there for an hour until it was time to go up to his home. LeBron is just one of the smartest basketball players I’ve ever met, along with Kobe, and Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, those type of dudes who … it wasn’t to sell the Lakers … he didn’t (need) to hear that. He already knew the team. Almost better than I did. He broke the roster down right in front of me. ‘Kuz likes to do this, so and so likes … oh I can’t wait, this guy is this.’ I was like, man, he knows the entire roster. Loves Luke’s system. He said Earvin, you know, I just want to come and be able to just play basketball and be me. And you have the type of roster I think that I think I can do that. Then he had a list of stuff he wanted to go down and we went through that list. Answered questions he had about the coaching staff, how Rob and I ran the organization. He really wanted to know about Jeanie, because he can’t wait to just sit down and have a really strong relationship with her. Those are the types of things we talked about, but the thing that I was really impressed with was that he knew every single guy, their strengths and weaknesses on our team, and he was really excited about how the young guys performed last season.”
Prior to the start of free agency, Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka established a two-year window on signing an All-Star player. While Plan A was James and George, the Lakers have kept their options open by signing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee, and Rajon Rondo to one-year deals.
With James’ arrival, the rebuilding process is officially over and the Lakers are looking to become perennial championship contenders. While the 33-year-old and the young core will be competitive in the Western Conference, the question remains if they will trade for Kawhi Leonard during the 2018-19 NBA season.
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