When Paul George was forcing his way out of Indiana, all his people talked about was him signing with the Lakers as a free agent. When the time came, he chose to stay in Oklahoma City. Jimmy Butler pushed his way out of Minnesota this season, but the Clippers were reportedly the Los Angeles team on his list, not the Lakers. I have heard from sources, and others have reported as well, that Kawhi Leonard is not really interested in teaming up with LeBron James if Leonard chooses to leave Toronto (not a sure thing by any means).
There’s been an assumption that when you combined the Lakers’ brand and the draw of Los Angeles with LeBron James, stars would flock to play with him. Not so. The Lakers will eventually get their other star (maybe even this summer), but it’s not that simple.
Kevin Durant understands why.
“So much hype comes from being around LeBron from other people,” Durant said. “He has so many fanboys in the media. Even the beat writers just fawn over him. I’m like, we’re playing basketball here, and it’s not even about basketball at certain points. So I get why anyone wouldn’t want to be in that environment because it’s toxic. Especially when the attention is b******* attention, fluff. It’s not LeBron’s fault at all; it’s just the fact you have so many groupies in the media that love to hang on every word. Just get out of the way and let us play basketball.”
Toxic is a strong word, but like he tried to say it’s not so much LeBron as it is he is a crossover star — it’s more than just basketball media around him. It’s a celebrity culture. And that’s just the off-the-court stuff. On the court, everyone next to LeBron — even future Hall of Famers, such as Dwyane Wade for example — become role players on some level.
“Kevin Love, he had to totally change his game to fit, to be a shooter,” Durant said. “Which, I think, he deserves way more credit for switching his game. [Chris] Bosh, same way. LeBron is a player that needs to play with guys that already know how they play the game — and shooters. Like, young players that are still developing, it’s always going to be hard because he demands the ball so much, he demands control of the offense and he creates for everybody.”
LeBron is the greatest player of a generation and should have the ball in his hands a lot, it should be his team, and nobody around the league really questions that.
For the stars the Lakers are trying to recruit, the questions are “Where am I in my career? What do I want most? Would playing with LeBron help me get that?”
The answer is not an automatic yes. If Kawhi Leonard wants to prove that he can be the alpha of a team that wins big — and he’s not just a key cog in Tim Duncan’s culture — then does playing in the shadow of LeBron help him? Same with Durant, if what he wants most is to lead his own team to a title, not to share that spotlight with a Stephen Curry or Russell Westbrook.
Maybe one of those guys — or Anthony Davis, if he turns down a $240 million extension from the Pelicans — feels that playing with LeBron would benefit his career. At some point, some elite player is going to jump at the chance to play with LeBron and win as a Laker. But that is a very, very bright spotlight with a lot of constant drama floating around, and that is not for everyone.
Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka have some work to do.