Sometimes an athlete says something to the press that just immediately makes you want to say, “Yeah, right.”
LeBron James explaining his decision to join the Los Angeles Lakers in free agency just rocketed to the top of the power rankings on the list of athlete whoppers in 2018.
“King James” went on Rachel Nichols’ show on ESPN to discuss the “challenge” of joining a foundering franchise with a bunch of young pieces that don’t really fit together and a front office culture that is right out of a Roland Emmerich movie.
— ESPN (@espn) July 30, 2018
LeBron spoke of the glorious history of the Lakers franchise and wanting to “help turn them around.”
“I love the challenge of being able to help a team get to some places they haven’t been in quite a while,” James said. “Obviously, the Lakers haven’t made the playoffs in a few years, but the Lakers organization and franchise matches up there with all the greats. For me to be part of that is a great thing for me, for my family and for basketball in general.”
He also cited the Cowboys and Patriots of the NFL, the Boston Celtics in the NBA, and even the greatest soccer team in the world — Manchester United — as examples of franchises that have a tradition and history of expecting to win.
It was all a great speech, a stroke of PR that might just help to mollify all those hot-and-bothered Lakers fans defacing murals all over Los Angeles of the guy who’s supposed to lead the team back to the Promised Land.
But Charles Barkley, for one, isn’t buying any of it.
Barkley, stating the obvious, pointed out that LeBron’s life after basketball is going to be tied closely to the entertainment industry.
After all, James was already in a movie with Amy Schumer (whose title, “Trainwreck,” is a fine description of the woman who starred in it), and he is raising his family around the Tinseltown glitz of sunny southern California rather than the dreary winter gloom of Northeast Ohio.
Barkley, speaking to Sports Illustrated, said, “I was hoping [James] would stay in Cleveland. I look at [the move to L.A.] strictly as a business decision. He’s on the downside of his career. He wants to be a big Hollywood mogul. He’s going to be driving by the beach every day instead of going through the snow. … [The Lakers] are not even close to a top-tier team. They’re a 5 or 6 seed in a best-case scenario.”
Calling the Lakers a No. 5 or No. 6 seed might even be generous.
After all, this is a roster that, beyond James, consists of castoffs and third-tier free agents from other teams.
When Rajon Rondo is your second-best player, and especially when Rondo and Lonzo Ball are going to be constantly at odds with each other over playing time, that’s a recipe for disaster.
Likewise, any roster that includes Michael Beasley, Lance Stephenson, and JaVale McGee? That’s more TMZ than NBA.
The guys the Lakers were counting on to join James? Paul George stayed in Oklahoma City, and Kawhi Leonard gets to play in front of Drake in Toronto, not Jack Nicholson in Staples Center.
How bad is the Lakers’ situation? LaVar Ball may be only the fourth- or fifth-biggest distraction in the media.
Barkley took the Lakers to task.
“That’s an impossible scenario for (coach) Luke (Walton),” Barkley said. “He’s got LeBron who is going to do things his way. He’s got those young kids who are probably in awe of LeBron. He’s got those older guys who are going to try to seek attention. I don’t think Lance and Rondo are going there to be the ninth or 10th guys on the bench and be quiet all year. They’re going to want touches.”
But there’s LeBron, claiming that he wants to help turn the franchise around, and that he’d have been accused of basically being Kevin Durant had he gone to Philadelphia or Houston in pursuit of his ninth straight Finals appearance, a feat that nobody who didn’t have Bill Russell as a teammate (or Russell himself) has ever pulled off.
There are eight, possibly even nine teams in the Western Conference that have a legitimate argument that they’ll be better than the Lakers this season.
If James gets hurt, it’s hard to see this Lakers team winning 20 games, never mind 50.
But sure, LeBron. You came to L.A. to win playoff games. Not for a second do we think you are there to prepare for your post-basketball life as a media mogul who will use the platform afforded by being close to media power in a liberal state to advance political causes.
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