Magic, Pelinka Discuss LeBron on Spectrum SportsNet
In the latest “Connected With…” on Spectrum SportsNet, Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka sat down to discuss all things LeBron James.
In an interview conducted by Chris McGee and Mike Bresnahan in the Spectrum studios, Magic and Pelinka covered the initial free agent meeting with LeBron, what the game’s best player liked about L.A.’s roster, how they filled in the roster around him and more.
Below is a summary of the conversation, which first aired at 3 p.m. Pacific on Spectrum:
Pelinka detailed how he found out the news: “I was up at our offices all day Sunday doing preparations and talking to (Magic) every five minutes … I was outside around 4 or 4:30 p.m., saying ‘I wonder when we’re going to find out the answer?’ because LeBron and his camp was meeting with another team that day … at about 5 p.m., I got a text from LeBron’s agent, Rich Paul, and the text just said ‘Congrats.’ And it had balloons. It was one of those moments in life you’ll never, ever forget. Everything went into slow motion. ‘Does this mean what I think it means?’ He called seconds later with the official news.”
Magic on his 1-on-1 meeting with LeBron: “First of all, Rob and I have been preparing for this for four or five, six months in terms of what would we talk to him about. What did we feel was important to LeBron. We’d been going through so many scenarios, also meeting with Jeanie, talking about what we thought would be important. Then I just, was supposed to be there at 9:01 so I got there at 8:01, so I was going to sit out there for an hour until it was time to go up to his home. LeBron is just one of the smartest basketball players I’ve ever met, along with Kobe, and Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, those type of dudes who … it wasn’t to sell the Lakers … he didn’t (need) to hear that. He already knew the team. Almost better than I did. He broke the roster down right in front of me. ‘Kuz likes to do this, so and so likes … oh I can’t wait, this guy is this.’ I was like, man, he knows the entire roster. Loves Luke’s system. He said Earvin, you know, I just want to come and be able to just play basketball and be me. And you have the type of roster I think that I think I can do that. Then he had a list of stuff he wanted to go down and we went through that list. Answered questions he had about the coaching staff, how Rob and I ran the organization. He really wanted to know about Jeanie, because he can’t wait to just sit down and have a really strong relationship with her. Those are the types of things we talked about, but the thing that I was really impressed with was that he knew every single guy, their strengths and weaknesses on our team, and he was really excited about how the young guys performed last season.”
Magic said the Lakers are about excellence and accountability, and LeBron is big on those things himself. He thought LeBron’s decision was more of a three-year decision, not just a one-year decision. Johnson think he’s at that point in his career. And that he also strongly considered what was best for his family.
Magic was asked if LeBron asked about length of contract in the meeting: “No, it was more just, I want to be comfortable with the man that’s in charge, and that’s me. So, we had a great time of going back and forth about, here we are two guys, similar. Both from the Midwest. Both grew up poor. Both love to compete. Both love to win, and I think that both excel at the highest level. We connected right when I walked in the door. Just two guys that we could talk free to each other, and talk real basketball, and that’s what I love about LeBron.”
Rob Pelinka on what LeBron’s decision means to the organization: “I think it means everything.” He detailed the lack of salary cap space and draft assets the Lakers had when he and Magic started in February of 2017, and the process by which they were able to build it back up through three separate trades. “Methodical planning, with constant interaction and togetherness. (Magic) cast the big vision and I moved the chess pieces around. Really all the different things we’ve done led to this moment. When Jeanie hired both of us, she talked about her dad a lot and the way he established the Lakers dynasties. We knew the first step in the process after we created the flexibility was to get a superstar in Staples Center. Our fans are used to this, it’s part of winning as a Laker. So LeBron, the greatest player in the world, choosing us, was the ultimate validation for all the work we’d put in to lead up to that moment.”
More from Pelinka on LeBron: “As Magic was talking about before, (LeBron) is a basketball savant. As we started to get a sense of what was in his head about our roster, talking to him about our guys, we had made a decision leading up to the chance to meet with him to make sure what we built around him was different from what he’s experienced the last three or four seasons. We wanted to build a team that was versatile, that was deep, that was fast and tough. You can see that’s been echoed in the moves we’ve made.”
Added Magic: “And high basketball IQ’s.”
Magic said LeBron is well aware of the Lakers history, and that he “didn’t run away from it,” which deserves praise. But more than the Lakers history, Magic thinks LeBron recognizes that the strategy and vision from the front office is there, and that the young players on the roster are “craving for knowledge,” for somebody to “take them by the hand and really show them the way.” He said LeBron knows that the way the game is played today is ideal for L.A.’s roster, which is young and explosive. He also mentioned the job Pelinka did to encourage the young players to get in fantastic shape, and how, with LeBron’s announcement, that has already had an immediate impact on the young players wanting to get even better, more quickly.
Rob on meeting LeBron when he signed his contract: “It was all business. We talked about the roster. The work he’s already putting in and how he’s going to bring that work ethic to everyone on the team. He’s been watching summer league games, brought up Josh Hart. There’s not a lot of fanfare. He’s not looking to celebrate signing, he’s looking to celebrate championships and he made that real clear.”
Pelinka on the young guys being excited, about how LeBron will show them how an All-Star, an MVP goes about his work: “Kuz, Zo, Josh, B.I. are all ready. You can just tell the energy (LeBron has) brought to their work is unbelievable.”
Magic was asked if LeBron is excited about L.A.’s young core: “Oh yeah, he’s very excited. That’s who he is. Rob and I want gym rats, we want guys who love to play the game. Guys who love to compete, they love to win, they love to sweat … and that’s what we got, everything rolled into one with LeBron. He knows he can take these young guys and really work on their skill set, their mindset, their approach to the game, their work ethic. And he’s already rubbing off on them and really has not gotten together with them yet. So when you have the greatest player in the world come join your organization, it raises everybody’s level of play.”
Pelinka offered an anecdote: “So we go and sign the contract, he’s just getting back from his family vacation. I’m walking out to get in my car, he’s walking out to get in his car. He mentions to his agent or his assistant, ‘Such and such is going to be at the gym at six in the morning, right? That’s when I’m going to start my workout.’ So you realize, that’s just who he is. First day back, just had flown in, 6 a.m., ‘I’m going to get after it tomorrow.’”
Pelinka also detailed the moves made around LeBron: “Earvin and I, we had boards, literally hundreds of boards of, ‘Here’s what would happen if this guy signed. Here’s what would happen if free agent No. 2 signs, where it was all played out in advance.’” He said they’d spent months studying film, doing analytics, doing background, and wanted to stick to the core components they’d outlined. So as soon as LeBron committed, Pelinka was calling agents for players about terms.
Magic said he definitely consulted LeBron on the moves: “I learned from Dr. Buss that you should always include the players. When Jerry West thought about bringing a player in, Dr. Buss would call myself, call Kareem. We’d give him our feedback. It’s the same thing here. LeBron has won championships, been to eight straight Finals. You think Rob and I are not going to ask him? No, we’re going to definitely ask him his opinion because he knows those players better than us … He gave us some great feedback, and Rob and I went back and validated what we were already thinking.”
Magic is a big Rondo fan, and used James Worthy as a comparison in one facet: “Don’t misunderstand Rondo … he’s just like LeBron when it comes to his mind about basketball. This guy is extremely bright. High basketball IQ, but he reminds me of James Worthy in one way. He plays better the bigger the game in the playoffs. He rises to the occasion. When the playoffs got there, I would just look at James, and he’d be having a look on his face like he’s ready to kill. Oh, I’m feeding you, big fella. And James took over the playoffs for the Lakers. It’s the same thing (with) Rondo. You see his numbers during the regular season? Good. But in the playoffs? Great. So we’re excited to have him.
Magic also mentioned JaVale McGee’s B2B championships, and the importance of bringing that winning attitude into the locker room. In addition, he noted how much they like Lance Stephenson’s attitude and energy. “I love his mindset, his attitude, his toughness. He’s gritty. We needed some of that. We had all quiet guys. We didn’t sign no quiet guy.”
Pelinka was asked about the PG spot and if there’s an open competition between Lonzo and Rondo, and started with some background: “Once you get a commitment from LeBron James, an open dialogue begins, and one point in those discussions that was made that was powerful to Magic and I and something we’d talked a lot about is all of a sudden we’re vaulted into a playoff team. In a moment’s time. The playoffs is a game of centimeters. So to get guys that have experience in the playoffs, in those moments to make the winning play was essential.” He went on to describe how Luke Walton has decided to have an “incredibly competitive” training camp where all the spots are going to be open, aside from LeBron James. “The four other starters are going to be the starters who will help us win the most games. Players are going to be held accountable and we’re going to be prepared.”
Magic added that competition made the Showtime Lakers better, with James Worthy not starting due to Jamaal Wilkes at first, and Michael Cooper making Magic better by playing so hard against him in practice.
Magic on Rondo/Lonzo: “I told you the one thing that was missing (last year) was we didn’t have a mentor for Lonzo. A veteran to mentor him. So last season, he really had to learn on his own, every game. Not this season. And we brought in the right mentor.
Pelinka then shared this about Rondo: “The first day when Rondo came, the first thing he did is ask, ‘Where’s your film guy.’ He had him pull film on every single player on our roster so he could start to study their tendencies.’”