LOS ANGELES – Less than a week after his own words sparked uncertainty about his long-term commitment to the Los Angeles Lakers, LeBron James delivered new comments that conveyed a different message.
“I see myself being with the purple and gold as long as I can play. But I also have a goal that if it’s possible — I don’t even know if it’s possible — and if I can play with my son, I would love to do that,” James said following the Lakers’ 105-102 loss to the LA Clippers on Friday. “Is that something that any man would want one day in life? That’s the coolest thing that could possibly happen. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to be with this franchise.”
The Athletic documented James’ public stance that he hopes to play with his son, Bronny, who enters his senior season at Sierra Canyon School in Chatsworth, Calif. The outlet also quoted James saying “the door’s not closed on that” in reference to an eventual Cleveland return. But James, who remains under contract with the Lakers through the 2022-23 season, clarified his comments.
“I never said I’d see myself playing in a Cavaliers uniform,” James said, adding that he did believe it was possible to sign a one-day contract to retire with his hometown team.
Before that interview, James also made headlines for his praise of Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti. After a reporter asked James about Thunder rookie Josh Giddey during his All-Star media availability, James singled out Presti and called him “the real MVP.”
James questioned why his comments were interpreted as a criticism of Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka, who failed to make a move before the trade deadline. The same interpretation happened after James tweeted praise for Los Angeles Rams general manager Les Snead, who wore a T-Shirt that said “(expletive) them picks” during the Super Bowl parade.
While Snead wore that shirt in reference to dealing multiple Draft picks for Matthew Stafford, Jalen Ramsey and Von Miller, James’ endorsement was perceived by some as a jab at Pelinka for declining to deal Russell Westbrook and a 2027 first-round pick to Houston for John Wall.
“I don’t care about Draft picks,” James said. “I care about winning championships. How is that directed at Rob and the Lakers franchise? Rob has done the same thing.”
James then mentioned Pelinka acquiring Anthony Davis from New Orleans in the 2019 offseason in exchange for three first-round Draft picks (and three players).
Therefore, James said he remains “very confident” in the Lakers’ front office.
Nonetheless, ESPN first reported that James’ agent (Rich Paul) met with Buss and Pelinka on Tuesday partly to address James’ comments during All-Star weekend. Paul told The Athletic, in part, that “Klutch Sports Group and the Lakers don’t have an issue.”
James maintained he did not learn about the meeting until after reading the published reports because he disconnected following All-Star weekend in Cleveland.
“It’s important that things always stay transparent between us,” James said. “We don’t care about the outside noise. I think a lot of people, to be honest, are just jealous of our relationship that Rich has with the front office and with this team and this relationship that I’ve had that has grown over the last few years.”
It’s a relationship that resulted in James playing a role in the Lakers acquiring Westbrook last summer in exchange for Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell and a late first-round pick. But the Lakers declined to make any moves before the trade deadline despite James’ hopes they could upgrade the roster.
“I don’t push the buttons,” James said. “They ask for my opinion, and I voice my opinion and what I believe. But I don’t press the buttons. That’s what our front office is for. That’s what our leadership group is for. I don’t press the buttons.”
The Lakers (27-32) are in ninth place in the Western Conference and will likely have to compete in the Play-In Tournament since they remain seven games behind the Denver Nuggets (34-25) for the sixth seed.
But as far as dissatisfaction with the franchise itself, James simply voiced regret that he, Davis and Westbrook have only played 20 games together.
Said James: “That’s the biggest disappointment so far.”