LeBron James Says He’s Committed to Lakers, Doing Damage Control on All-Star Weekend Comments – Press Enterprise

LOS ANGELES — It’s only February, but the Lakers needed a proper spring cleaning.

Not on the court, mind you: In the games themselves, the Lakers (27-32) are still trending the wrong way in ninth place after losing another nail biter to the Clippers on Friday night.

But in a nearly 12-minute post-game session, LeBron James put in some of the heaviest drills of the season, trying to put the mess his words had made at All-Star Weekend back into a more manageable situation.

James, 37, was passionately in damage control mode in his first media appearance since the All-Star Game when asked for his comments on fellow NBA general managers, his allusion to a possible open door for a third act in Cleveland and to his sudden interest in talking about moving markets to play with his son. His explanation was that all his comments were misconstrued and actually everything is fine between him and Lakers management.

When asked how confident he was in the Lakers’ ability to surround him with a championship squad, James didn’t hesitate: “Very confident. You did it. They showed me that.

“Since I’ve been here, in the front office of Jeanie (Buss), Linda (Rambis), Kurt (Rambis), everyone has welcomed me with open arms and given me the opportunity to play for a historic franchise and welcome my family ,” he added. “And I’m just trying to give my part of the game back and inspire kids and inspire people who want to follow the Lakers and bring them back to a level that they’re used to. And that’s always been my focus.”

The Southern California News Group and other outlets have reported on weeks of tension between James and the Lakers’ front office over the roster’s direction at the close. Nothing changes the story: Sources have told SCNG that James wanted a reorganization, and when the Lakers didn’t do one, there was frustration at the deadline-date inaction. Specifically, ESPN reported that sources close to James disputed GM Rob Pelinka’s claim that he and Davis were “aligned” on the decision.

But it seems like James and the Lakers realized the drama had gone far enough: they set about smoothing things over after returning from the break.

ESPN and The Athletic reported a meeting between Lakers management and Rich Paul, James’ agent and CEO of Klutch Sports, on Tuesday. Buss and Pelinka met with Paul to clear the air. The Athletic’s Sam Amick wrote, “Paul strongly refuted the notion that there is any sort of rift between James and the Lakers or that these are all indicative of a grand exit plan yet to come.”

When the game started on Friday night, Paul sat in his usual spot off the field and paid an early visit to Bus’s department. He exchanged a hug and a few pleasantries with Linda Rambis, Buss’ best friend and one of her trusted advisers. If someone had looked for a message there, it would have been: All is well.

If there weren’t a rift between the Lakers and the four-time league MVP, it seems like a meeting between James’ agent and Lakers’ Messing wouldn’t be necessary. But James skipped that detail, saying he was unaware of that peak as he enjoyed his break on a distant shore.

He defended Paul, saying issues between Klutch and the Lakers were misrepresented due to professional envy.

“I think it’s important that it’s always transparent between us and we don’t really care about the outside noise,” James said. “I think a lot of people, to be honest, are just jealous of the relationship that Rich has with the front office and with this team and the relationship that I have and have built over the last four years. I mean, that’s what I think it boils down to.”

Still, James denied that the bottom line is that he has any power when it comes to making roster decisions: “(The Lakers) ask for my opinion, and I give my opinion and what I believe. But I don’t push any buttons. That’s what our front office is for and that’s what our leadership group is for.”

On other fronts, James has gone on the offensive, accusing media workers of twisting his words “to different places they shouldn’t go.” He passed his comments on Oklahoma City GM Sam Presti and Cleveland GM Koby Altman as sincere praise and feigned confusion as to why they were perceived as passive-aggressive shots at Pelinka.

Referring to an interview he gave to The Athletic’s Jason Lloyd, in which he said “the door isn’t closed” on returning to Cleveland – including saying he wouldn’t be returning for “anything below the top” of the pay scale — James described it as harmless talking about a one-day deal to retire as Cavalier, which he described as “possible”.

James even drew a parallel between Pelinka and one of the executives he spotlighted. Retweeting Rams GM Les Snead, who was wearing a t-shirt that read “(expletive) the picks,” James explained, “I loved his (expletive) t-shirt. I thought it was stupid. And I believe the same. I don’t care about picks; I’m all about winning championships. Now how does that address the Rob and the Lakers franchise? Rob did the same. He went and got (Davis).”

James was most adamant about his comments about wanting to play with his eldest son, 17-year-old Bronny James. He told The Athletic last weekend: “Wherever Bronny is, that’s where I’ll be. I would do anything to play with my son for a year. It’s not about the money.”

James dismissed the idea to a degree, hinting that he hoped Bronny would end up with the Lakers.

“I see myself at purple and gold while I can play,” he said. “But I also have a goal, if it’s possible – I don’t even know if it’s possible – that if I can play with my son, I’d love to do it. Is that something no man should want in life? That’s about the coolest thing that can happen. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to be in this franchise.”

Even as James reframes the context of his comments, what’s most notable is that he lines up his forces behind the Lakers themselves. After leaving the franchise in the wind for the past week, he showed solidarity and direction as he returned to work. This is a positive development for James and the Lakers – working together is the only way they can turn things around.

James admitted losing is at the root of all his frustrations, including on Friday night. He echoed something Pelinka said after the deadline: The 18 games the Lakers got out of their “Big Three” of him, Davis and Russell Westbrook were too small to judge.

“This is the biggest disappointment so far,” he said. “Because we all wanted to see this work, we just weren’t grounded.”

James couldn’t remember the exact number of games the Big Three played together. When a reporter told him, he frowned.

“It’s pretty bad when you only have 20+ games left,” he said.

— Kyle Goon


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