LeBron James will make his home debut as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday night, and Lakers fans can thank Kobe Bryant for helping bring James to LA.
The Lakers have been a mess the past few years, starting with Bryant’s final seasons with the team and continuing after his retirement in 2016.
A big part of the dysfunction within the Lakers organization was in the front office, where Jim Buss was VP of basketball operations and Mitch Kupchak was the team’s GM.
Where Bryant comes in is that he persuaded team owner Jeanie Buss to pull a Michael Corleone from “The Godfather Part II” and dispose of her brother for the betterment of the Lakers.
Bryant discussed his role in helping bring James to Los Angeles in an interview with The Undefeated.
“I’ll tell you, when Jeanie Buss came to me and said, ‘I really want to go after (LeBron),’ I said, ‘Jeanie, he’s not coming here until you clean up this s— here,’” Bryant said. “The last thing LeBron wants to do is come to an organization that has a lot of infighting, a lot of the stuff going on.
“I said, ‘Jeanie, it’s time for you to take ownership of this franchise. He’s not going to come if you don’t.’”
That conversation took place in early 2017. Buss would then fire Kupchak and announce she “accepted the resignation” of her brother on Feb. 21, 2017.
She replaced them with Magic Johnson as president of basketball operations and Rob Pelinka, Bryant’s former agent, as general manager.
Johnson and Pelinka had over a year to clean up some of the mess caused by the previous regime. They made numerous transactions to create cap space in order to sign James in the summer, and they retained their cap space for future years to add another superstar to the team.
As it stands, the Lakers will have the fourth-lowest cap number for the 2019-20 season, which should enable them to sign at least one of the many star players that will be free agents next summer.
That list of players includes Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler and Klay Thompson. All of them will either be free agents or have player options they can opt out of next summer.
As for this year, James is trying to end the Lakers’ five-year drought of missing the playoffs which is the longest in franchise history.
Bryant believes they are a definite playoff team and will surprise lots of people this year.
“Rob has smartly built a team of physical players,” he said. “Big, versatile, fast, physical players. He understands that if you want to challenge Golden State, you can’t challenge them with shooting. That’s what they do.
“You’ve got to beat them somewhere else. You have to beat them with size. Chippiness. Feistiness. Strength and speed. And he has a team that has that. He has a mixture of vets that are still in their primes and young kids that are hungry and open-minded and willing to learn. A team that can compete and challenge. That is a dangerous mix.”
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