Whispers grew louder over the past year that LeBron James would leave the Cleveland Cavaliers yet again in free agency, and this time sign with the Los Angeles Lakers. It looked like more of a possibility when they cleared enough salary cap space for multiple max contracts.
Although the Lakers failed to sign Paul George, who had long been considered a heavy lean to return to his Southern California roots, they reeled in James. And in a break from what’s become a trend for the game’s top players, 14-time All-Star signed a four-year contract.
James essentially committed to a young Lakers roster that’s been rounded out with veteran talents such as Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee and Michael Beasley.
But while the Lakers ended their drought in free agency by adding one of the game’s best talents, not everyone is convinced James made his decision solely on wanting to join the franchise.
According to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin and Ohm Youngmisuk, one player believes the city of Los Angeles was the driving factor:
“He wanted to come to L.A.,” one Western Conference player said. “They just had to not f— it up. Jerry West just said it, and I was like, ‘Finally.’ He’s not coming to the Lakers. He came to L.A.”
So too does an agent, citing the highly-competitive Western Conference:
“My thought was, ‘Good luck. You must really want to live in L.A.'” one prominent agent said. “Playing Western Conference teams night in and night out is not going to be the same. You don’t get a ‘night off.’ I would not want to end my career just making the playoffs.”
Former Lakers guard and executive Jerry West was the first to publicly suggest the signing of James was largely a forgone conclusion and simply a matter of not botching the situation. There may be some truth to it, but the Lakers deserve credit for emerging as an attractive option for James.
It wasn’t long ago that they were without draft picks or salary cap space.