When LeBron James previously reached free agency in his career, the Los Angeles Lakers were unable to so much as secure a meeting with him. The best they got was former general manager Mitch Kupchak leading a small contingent who met with James’ agent, Rich Paul, in 2014.
In the months leading up to this year’s free agency, the Cleveland Cavaliers, Houston Rockets, Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers were mentioned most often as possible landing spots for James. Ultimately, that list dwindled down to the Cavs, Lakers and 76ers.
And with that, most believed James was deciding between re-signing with the Cavaliers or making the jump to Los Angeles.
Of course, he ultimately decided to sign with the Lakers, not only joining the glamour franchise, but doing so on a four-year contract and without another star first signing.
In an interview with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, James explained that he gave thought to signing with a contending team that would factor into extending his NBA Finals streak, but chose the Lakers in part because he relishes the challenge:
“I definitely thought long and hard about the possibilities of lining up alongside Ben (Simmons) and (Joel) Embiid, or lining up alongside (James) Harden and Chris (Paul). I felt like at this point in my career, the ultimate for me, just like when I went to Miami, everyone looks at me joining a superteam. But if people look at it, I think Miami was 35-47 the year before I joined the team. And you guys can look at the Lakers record (from the 2017-18 season). So I like the challenge. I like the challenge of being able to help a team get to places they haven’t been in quite a while. Obviously the Lakers haven’t made the playoffs in a few years, but the Lakers organization is a historical franchise. Matches up there with all the greats. You can look at the Cowboys, you can look at the Patriots, you can look at Manchester United, Boston Celtics. These are historical franchises. For me to be a part of that, I think it’s a great moment for not only me, but for my family and the history of basketball in general.”
In his first public remarks since singing with the Lakers, James equated the scenario to a dream come true for him. He joined a franchise that now finds itself in an interesting situation.
The Lakers were in the process of a rebuild with a promising young core that still remains intact, but has been surrounded by veterans with championship experience. Moreover, they retained flexibility moving forward by signing the likes of Lance Stephenson, Rajon Rondo, Michael Beasley, JaVale McGee and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to one-year contracts.
Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson acknowledged that James’ arrival accelerates the team’s timeline, but he added they will not suddenly mortgage the future or act out of desperation simply for the sake of doing so.