COMMENTARY: LeBron makes right call but faces huge challenge in L.A.
No television special on ESPN.
No penned essay in Sports Illustrated.
Just a simple sentence in a press release from his agency Klutch Sports: “LeBron James, four time MVP, fourteen time NBA All Star, and two time Olympic gold medalist has agreed to a four year, $154 million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers.”
That’s all James’ agent Rich Paul gave us on Sunday.
No more, no less.
And you know what? James doesn’t have to say anything else.
Unlike his first stint in Cleveland when he left for Miami in 2010 before eventually returning to the Cavaliers in 2014, James owes no one an explanation.
This decision is different than James’ previous two. This decision is about more than just basketball. This decision is also about his family, which already owns multiple houses in Los Angeles, and life beyond basketball, which includes his production company SpringHill Entertainment and multimedia platform Uninterrupted.
What better place to bring all three together than the City of Angels?
Fans and the media love ripping a player for career decisions when they don’t fit their own agenda. Some call him a ring chaser, others a coward.
All of it is ludicrous.
He’s a free agent, a human being who deserves to be happy in his own life. Could you imagine if you took a job that enhanced your career, in a better location that made you happy and person after person ripped you for it? Yeah, didn’t think so.
We don’t get outraged at coaches for doing it. So why do we turn red when players take off when they’re free to do so?
James is in control of his own life, not us. At age 33, he only gets one prime, one window to continue competing at the highest level we’ve arguably ever seen. We don’t know how much longer he has left at his peak, so choosing to go in a new direction is something none of us should be blaming him for.
Are people really going to question another decision by James? His previous two worked out pretty darn well — two championships in Miami and the city of Cleveland’s first sports title in more than 50 years.
If James were a ring chaser he’d have signed with the Philadelphia 76ers, whose roster is loaded with young talent and open with salary cap space. Or he’d have forced a sign-and-trade to the Houston Rockets, who pushed the Golden State Warriors to seven games in the Western Conference finals and may have won a title if not for a hamstring injury to Chris Paul.
This next stop will be anything but easy for James. It’s a huge risk for the three-time champion, who heads to Los Angeles without another all-star. Paul George surprised many by staying in Oklahoma City and James’ buddy Paul re-signed with the Rockets.
It’ll be even harder if the Lakers can’t pull off a trade for San Antonio Spurs superstar Kawhi Leonard, who demanded a trade to Los Angeles last month. That reportedly doesn’t look too promising at the moment either.
But no one should be surprised he’s leaving this time around, not after the dumpster fire Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert put together a second time in Cleveland.
Twice now Gilbert has wasted the best player of this generation. One title in 11 years! That’s just absurd.
And Gilbert made it so easy for James this time. He took Jordan Clarkson’s multi-year contract off the Lakers’ hands at the trade deadline along with Larry Nance, clearing out their cap space this summer to allow James to head west.
Oh, and Gilbert gave the Lakers a first round pick. That was about as asinine as it gets when you also throw in the Kyrie Irving trade to Boston the summer before.
James is accepting an enormous challenge by heading to the L.A. stage, the league’s biggest spotlight. He’ll be in the shadow of so many greats, from Kobe Bryant to his new boss Magic Johnson.
Johnson is putting the organization in James’ hands, entrusting him to raise Showtime from the dead and make it the franchise that once ruled the NBA. The Warriors aren’t going anywhere so credit to James for leaving the comforts of the Eastern Conference and taking them head on.
That should be respected.
This may be James’ greatest test as a player as father time slowly catches up to him. But he’s earned every right to drive the end of his prime wherever he desires.
You would do the same.