Showtime Is Back: LeBron James is a Los Angeles Laker

LeBron James is now officially a Los Angeles Laker. The King follows in the footsteps of many other NBA legends who have played for the league's most iconic franchise.

Hollywood Ending

On Sunday evening, news broke that LeBron James has finally agreed to a contract with the Los Angeles Lakers. The mutual interest between James and the Lakers has been rumored for quite some time now, with the rumors intensifying more and more this summer. Lakers President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson met with LeBron James at a Beverly Hills restaurant on late Saturday night to discuss James signing with the Lakers. Less than 24 hours later, it was clear that Magic’s persuasive efforts to land The King were a massive success, as LeBron James officially agreed to a multi-year with Los Angeles.

James reportedly inked a four-year deal that will pay him a total of $153.3 million to don the purple and gold. The fourth year the deal is a player option. It seems logical that LeBron will decline that and re-enter free agency, although he is highly likely to re-sign with the Lakers. LeBron’s preference of signing with the Lakers seemed to be as much about finishing his career in Los Angeles as it was about basketball itself.

LeBron James will follow in the footsteps of numerous Hall of Famers, such as Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Shaquille O'Neal. All three players share similarities that LeBron has and will continue to emulate. Chamberlain, Abdul-Jabbar, and O'Neal all made their way to the Lakers as marquee free agents. All three players also experienced a very high level of success prior to joining LA, and then went on to win a title with the Lakers. 

Thunderstruck: Why Paul George Stayed in OKC

Expected to join LeBron James in Los Angeles was fellow free agent forward Paul George. In a fairly surprising move, George instead opted to return to Oklahoma City to continue playing with Russell Westbrook and company. Here’s a breakdown of why George’s deal with the Thunder is a head-scratcher:

  • George previously made his desire to play for the Lakers very, very public.

He initially requested a trade from the Indiana Pacers because he was “going to sign with the Lakers in free agency” as soon as he was eligible. 

  • The ESPN three-part free agency special that George starred in aappears to have cost a lot of fans.

The mini-documentary seemed to have a goal of preserving Paul George’s image with Laker fans, almost as if George wanted to make sure he was still beloved in his hometown despite not signing with the Lakers. George accomplished the complete opposite, successfully alienating and angering his California fan-base. Most Lakers fans seem to think that PG13 unnecessarily led on fans and the front office. For the foreseeable future, Paul George will almost certainly be booed every time he steps on the floor at Staples Center.

  • Paul George passes up the chance to play with LeBron James, instead opting for the Russell Westbrook-led Thunder.

Westbrook is an elite player in his own right and he has an excellent relationship with George, both on and off the court. However, he is not LeBron James. Nobody is. Oklahoma City’s cap situation and market also do not tend to appeal to other star free agents. The Lakers on the other hand, undoubtedly have one of the best young cores in the league. There is enough talent and flexibility to not only entice other star free agents to sign on with LA.

  • The contract itself: George took significantly less money per year than he had to, in order to remain with Oklahoma City.

The 4 year, $137 million deal that George signed does not maximize his financial upside. As Brian Windhorst of ESPN explained, George could’ve had a larger payday by signing a 2 year (1+1 year with a player option) deal, and then re-enter free agency in the 2020 off-season, as a 10-year veteran. 

At the end of the day, one can’t necessarily fault Paul George for wanting to remain loyal to Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder. For Lakers fans, it will ultimately be remembered as an odd ending to an unnecessary saga. Naturally, Lakers Twitter took turns hurling R-rated insults at PG13. The general consensus seemed to be that George’s handling of this situation was very tone deaf and corny.

George announced he was returning to the Thunder at a Saturday night house party hosted by Russell Westbrook himself. The party was held in Oklahoma City and featured some big-name guests, including a performance from one of the best hip-hop artists of all time, Nas. In a subtle troll move that went largely unnoticed by NBA Twitter, Westbrook didn't just have any hip-hop great perform at the party. While not confirmed, it’s possible Westbrook chose Nas because he doesn’t exactly have a warm relationship with Lakers point guard Lonzo Ball. Then it again, it could be nothing—-after all, Nas is one of the best rappers of all time. 

The following video of George's announcement comes via Gabe Ikard, a former NFL player who was in attendance at Westbrook's party. Ikard took to Twitter, becoming the first person to officially break this news to the public.

This particular rumor seems a bit far-fetched, but there are some folks who think the Lakers actually spurned Paul George, and not the other way around. 'Whi would the Lakers do this you ask? Well, let's just say they have their eyes set on another premiere NBA talent: San Antonio Spurs disgruntled superstar Kawhi Leonard. 

Leonard has a very reserved personality and is quite frankly the opposite of outspoken. However, in recent days he has made clear his desire to be traded away from the Spurs. Equally transparent is his stated and well-known desire to join the Lakers and only the Lakers.

To acquire Leonard via trade now, the Lakers would almost certainly be forced to part with multiple key young assets, such as Brandon Ingram and/or Kyle Kuzma. It is easy to see why Magic Johnson and the Lakers are so hesitant to do so.

Kuzma, along with players like Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart are intriguing players in the short and long-term for LA. They are both clearly capable of contributing now and down the road. Ball even has All-NBA potential.

If the Lakers are able to eventually land Kawhi Leonard without dismantling their young core, Magic and Pelinka will deserve never ending Executive of the Year awards. For now, the roster is composed of LeBron and young potential future stars. Kawhi Leonard seems destined to join LeBron in purple and gold. The question isn't if, but when...

No Paul, No Problem

Despite Paul George not signing with LA, the Lakers have been extremely active since officially signing King James. Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka have made several moves that don't (directly) involve LeBron James:

  • Thomas Bryant was released, saving the Lakers around $1.5 million
  • Kentavious Caldwell-Pope re-signed with LA for $12 million on a one year deal
  • Lance Stephenson and JaVale McGee also signed one-year deals with the Lakers
  • Rajon Rondo signed a 1 year deal for around $9 million

These kind of moves are exactly the type to expect from a front office that is trying to round out a LeBron-led roster. While the Stephenson signing raises some eyebrows for a variety of reasons, it still represents more depth for LA and will give LeBron a deeper supporting cast. 

McGee will offer the Lakers another big body as well as rim protection. Expect him to start a chunk of games and play up to 20 minutes per game. 

Rajon Rondo offers a veteran presence to mentor and push sophomore starter Lonzo Ball. The point guard job is reportedly “an open competition”, however I don’t expect Ball to relenquish his starters role anytime soon. Rondo can put his arm around Zo and teach him a few veteran tricks. Not to mention, Rondo is a basketball wizard and clearly a future head coaching candidate. He knows the game inside and out; Lonzo Ball should take full advantage of spending this season with Rondo. 

These free agent moves come after three rookies were drafted by the Lakers last week. Michigan's Moe Wagner headlines the trio of players. Wagner is a modern NBA big who profiles somewhat similarly to a Nikola Vucevic type player. Joining Wagner as Laker rookies are former Kansas Jayhawk Svi Mykhailiuk and German stash asset Isaac Bonga. The Lakers also signed Mykhailiuk’s college teammate, Malik Newman. Both Wagner (pronounced Vag-nurr) and Mykhailiuk had excellent Summer League debuts against the Kings. 

The DeMarcus Cousins rumors seemed to disappear just as quickly as they resurfaced this off-season. The KCP deal (along with McGee and Stephenson) seems to signal that the Lakers have eliminated signing Boogie Cousins as a possibility. Unfortunately, the Lakers likely won't have Julius Randle to fall back on. Randle is about the best Plan D in the league and the Lakers can make it work financially with him as well. However, Silver Screen & Roll reported yesterday that Randle is likely not expected back as a Laker. It remains to be seen what the reason given is, but one can reasonably imagine it might have just a little something to do with Randle's up and down role with the team last year.

No Boogie in LA

DeMarcus Cousins made the already infamous decision to sign with the Golden State Warriors. Cousins shocked the NBA world be accepting a 1 year $5 million deal. He will be out until January or February while recovering from a torn achilles.

Julius Randle also became a former Laker, effectively taking the roster spot on the New Orleans Pelicans That was previously occupied by new Laker Rajon Rondo. Randle, who signed a 2 year $18 million deal, will play alongside one of the NBA’s best players in fellow former Kentucky Wildcat Anthony Davis. 

Lakers Head Coach Luke Walton gave Randle a tough love approach and forced him to work for everything, something Randle responded well to. However, it is easy to see how Randle could have come away from the situation feeling at least somewhat undervalued and disrespected. Julius Randle may be on the way out the door. Paul George is staying in OKC. But LeBron is a Laker, and Kawhi can't wait to be a Laker. And at the end of the day, that's what really matters. 

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