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LeBron James on joining Lakers: “I love the challenge”

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LeBron James did something far more important than basketball on Monday — he opened a school in Akron to help the disadvantaged youth of his hometown. He relates to those kids, in a “there but for the grace of my basketball gifts go I” kind of way.

This undertaking was a massive challenge for LeBron and his non-profit, but it wasn’t the only challenge he talked about on Monday. When talking to the assembled basketball media, he discussed the challenge of lifting the Lakers back up to the status that franchise expects (and has been nowhere near in recent years). Via Dave McMenamin of ESPN, from LeBron’s interview with Rachel Nichols of the same network.

“I like the challenge of being able to help a team get to places that they haven’t been in quite a while,” James said. “And obviously the Lakers haven’t made the playoffs in a few years, but the Lakers organization and historical franchise matches up there with all the greats. You can look at the Cowboys and you can look at the Patriots, you can look at Manchester United, the Boston Celtics — these are like historical franchises. And for me to be a part of that, I think it’s a great move not only for me but for my family and for the history of basketball in general.”

As for the team assembled by Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka — a interesting young Lakers’ core with Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, and Kyle Kuzma, now surrounded by some of the more interesting personalities of the league such as Lance Stephenson, Michael Beasley, Rajon Rondo, and JaVale McGee — LeBron has high expectations.

“We just got guys that love to play basketball,” James told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols as part of a wide-ranging sit-down interview Monday at the opening of his I Promise School. “At the end of the day, guys that love to play ball, and that’s what they do every single day, I love that. I love that, and I think [Rob] Pelinka and Magic [Johnson] love that as well, and that’s why they made the signings. And bringing Lance and JaVale and Beas and Rondo, they’re guys that every day that they wake up they think about the game of basketball. And everything else is secondary.”

LeBron is 33, will turn 34 next season, and while he hasn’t slowed down much yet (he just picks his spots more), does he feel the pressure to win another title in LA sooner rather than later?

“I don’t even look at it like that because I don’t feel like this is going to be one of the last years of my prime,” James said. “That’s another statistic number, and I’ve always been a part of beating the odds in life. So being around my kids a lot, it gives me even more and more time in my youth.”

LeBron also said he gave serious consideration to both Houston and Philadelphia, before choosing to move his family to Los Angeles.

Another LeBron James mural vandalized in Los Angeles

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Most of Los Angeles — and the vast majority of Lakers fans — are fired up that LeBron James is coming to Los Angeles. They see a return to glory for the franchise (well, once they get the rest of the roster right… sorry Lance Stephenson).

However, there is a segment — particularly the die-hard Kobe fans — who are having trouble assimilating to the new reality.

So when an artist did a LeBron James mural near Venice in Los Angeles recently — a really well-done tribute — it was quickly vandalized. Then eventually covered up.

This week another artist did another impressive LeBron/Lakers mural — this one with LeBron looking up at the Lakers’ legends — and once again, it was vandalized.

I’m not shocked by any of this, but it is depressing. If you’re vandalizing art, you are a cowardly buffoon.

There’s no way to really know the motivation behind the second attack, although the smart money is on it being the same as the first one — a few people think they are protecting the Lakers’ brand by not welcoming the best player on the planet to a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in five years. It’s incredibly flawed logic, but frankly flawed logic has become trendy in recent years, it can get you elected to all kinds of offices.

Credit real Lakers fans who showed up to help fix this.

Michael Beasley reportedly joins Lakers on one-year contract

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Because a locker room with Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee, and Rajon Rondo — with LaVar Ball circling around it — did not have enough distractions…

Michael Beasley, welcome to the Los Angeles Lakers.

It’s one year for $3.5 million.

Beasley is another eccentric guy for the Lakers’ collection. Remember when he changed teams from Minnesota to Phoenix and rather than move his stuff he just had a big estate sale and sold it all? Beasley by himself isn’t a distraction at this point, but all of those personalities in one locker room and… I do not envy Luke Walton right now.

Beasley had a solid offensive campaign for the Knicks last season, averaging 13.2 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.7 assists playing more than 22 minutes a night (he also started 30 games for them). He can attack off the dribble and score, gets to the line, and shot 39.5 percent from three — the man has embraced his role as a scorer off the bench and he can get the Lakers some buckets.

He’s also going to give up a lot of buckets because he does not play defense (he did rebound a little better last year, but that’s only when the guy missed despite his lack of D).

How Walton fits all this together remains to be seen. Beasley played 93 percent of his minutes last season at the four, where the Lakers will start Brandon Ingram but also rotate LeBron James and Kyle Kuzma through. Guys are versitle and basketball is evolving to being positionless, but that’s a lot of guys eating up minutes for similar roles.

At the price they are paying, this is a decent signing by the Lakers. Beasley will get them points if he stays healthy (he did play 74 games last season). I’m sure Magic/Pelinka will sell this as “adding another veteran playmaker to our roster,” and they will ignore all the baggage that comes with it. All those guys are on one-year contracts, the Lakers are looking farther down the road at much bigger targets than the new guys in the locker room.

But man, that Laker locker room this season is going to be a piece of work.

Magic Johnson: Lakers will consult with LeBron on big moves

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This is what should happen with the NBA’s elite players. When the Warriors were thinking about adding DeMarcus Cousins to the roster this summer, they reached out to Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant for their opinion, then pulled the trigger after listening to feedback. It’s going to be that way with James Harden in Houston or Anthony Davis in New Orleans or…

LeBron James with the Lakers.

Magic Johnson confirmed as much, speaking to the media, as reported by Bill Oram of the Athletic.

This gets blown up by some fans into “LeBron is the GM” but he’s never wanted to be the final decision maker. Teams defer to his wishes at times, but that happened with Magic (just as Norm Nixon) and virtually every other superstar in the modern NBA. It’s part of the game.

The art is knowing where the boundaries are and when to overrule. Pat Riley did that well (for the most part) when LeBron was in Miami. In Cleveland, there were more misses than hits, although David Griffin (and to a degree Koby Altman) did well within the limitations.

Consulting LeBron is a must. It’s expected. Will Magic and Rob Pelinka be able to tell him “no” at the appropriate times? That remains to be seen. So far they have not impressed with the veterans brought in to go with LeBron (if you want to see executives from other teams laugh/roll their eyes, just bring up the Lance Stephenson/JaVale McGee signings).

Magic won the summer by getting LeBron, but that’s not even half the battle.

Lakers insist they’re trying to compete with Warriors

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The Warriors were already historically great, and then they signed DeMarcus Cousins. If all goes well, they could be the greatest team of all-time. Their floor is championship favorite.

Plenty of teams seem content to wait out Golden State.

Does that include the Lakers?

They have LeBron James locked up three more years, and he doesn’t seem to be demanding urgency. Their other signings – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson and JaVale McGee – are for one-year deals designed to maximize long-term flexibility. Los Angeles hasn’t flipped any of its top young players – Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart – or future first-round picks for immediate upgrades.

But the Lakers say they’ve designed this roster specifically to compete with the Warriors.

Lakers general manager Pelinka, via Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN:

“If your goal is to win a championship, you’ve got to look at the way the champs are assembled and how you can give yourself the best chance to take them down,” Pelinka said of one of the many reasons for the construction of the Lakers’ current roster. “It is certainly part of the equation. … [President of basketball operations] Earvin [Johnson] and I had a conversation, and LeBron echoed this sentiment: I think to try to play the Warriors at their own game is a trap. No one is going to beat them at their own game, so that is why we wanted to add these elements of defense and toughness and depth and try to look at areas where we will have an advantage.”

“We did not want to go out and just sign specialists, ‘Oh, this guy can just shoot,'” Pelinka said. “We wanted tough two-way players that can defend with a level of toughness and also make shots. Listen, the road to the NBA championship has to go through the team that won last year, and we all know the guys up north have a special group. But one of the ways to attack what they have is with defensive toughness. I think we saw that in the Houston series with some of the players that Houston has.

This is intentionally different than the approach the Cavaliers took with LeBron. They prioritized offense and surrounded him with shooters. That left Cleveland short against Golden State the last couple years, and the Lakers are trying something different.

But the Lakers will run into the same problem the Cavs did: Their players just aren’t good enough. Rondo’s best defensive days are long behind him. Stephenson and McGee are good in moments, spacy in others. Caldwell-Pope is a good perimeter defender but struggles when switching inside or against bigger wings.

It’s not as much style as ability. The Rockets had way better players, which is why they came closer than anyone to beating the Kevin Durant Warriors in the playoffs.

The Lakers shouldn’t completely give up on this season. They have LeBron, and he alone gives them a chance. More importantly now, he provides the them a chance to build a more serious contender in future years.

But it’s tough to buy the Lakers’ stated plan for this season.