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Purple & Bold: Who wants to play with LeBron James?

first_imgBut there’s another way of looking at the picture of why stars haven’t targeted James as a teammate in recent years: James’ own example has set their path.Over the last decade, the NBA has seen the leverage of players rise dramatically – to the level that owners are now concerned (particularly because of the George trade) that they’re losing the ability to hold onto their stars. There are many plot points in this trend, but forced to pick the most influential moment in the last 10 years, one would have to circle The Decision as a moment that changed how players viewed their ability to self-determine their destiny, team up with their friends and compete for championships.James himself showed how a player could find both a market he wanted and teammates he wanted, and draw both into his orbit. He also showed how he could alter his own narrative: While he was a villain after spurning Cleveland for the Heat, in 2014, he was praised for turning around to his hometown Cavaliers, eventually leading them to the championship the city had long labored over.In a league that had often been dominated by single-franchise stars – Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Kobe Bryant and more – James set the imprint for a more modern star, who could win multiple championships with different franchises and leverage the power to choose teammates (one could argue that he’s doing that now as a Laker, expressing as far back as December that he’d like to play with Davis). And while there are always people who will point to this history and say it diminishes James somehow, that he needed others to help him win titles, in the eyes of players, it has been an example to follow.So think of it this way: James’ own influence has created a generation of pioneers, instead of a generation of players who want to team up with him.The inclination is to create one’s own path, and that becomes more pronounced when you consider that teams like the Nets and Clippers – two franchises without much winning tradition – are suddenly cashing in on stars. Aside from the strong management tactics each of those teams executed to be in position for stars, they’re also finding a group of players like Leonard, George, Irving and Durant who want to create something for themselves as the leading men, rather than be another supporting player alongside James.The Athletic’s piece on Davis indicated that’s not really a concern for him – he’s more worried about getting a championship to begin with:“Obviously there are some other great teams around the league, but winning a championship is not easy,” Davis said. “It’s very difficult. He knows that. I haven’t been down that path, but hopefully this year he can lead me down that path and we can win.”Davis’ focus and willingness to buck this particular trend is good news for James – and for Laker fans, by extension.WHAT’S IN A POSITION?Yahoo Sports reported Monday morning that the Lakers intend to start James in the backcourt alongside Danny Green next season, finally acknowledging what has been true for years: He’s a point guard.That won’t change much on offense: James is always the straw that stirs the drink on offense, whether he plays on ball or off. The Lakers attempted to make James more of an off-ball threat by using him in lineups with other playmakers, but as the year went on, James ended up as more of the de facto point guard in key moments. It makes a lot of sense: Each of the last three years, James has wound up with more than eight assists per game, and as he ages, his unique passing ability might be a more reliable facet of his game.That’s not to say there aren’t interesting ramifications: The report means that the Lakers won’t start any of the point guards they’ve signed in free agency, including Rajon Rondo, Alex Caruso and Quinn Cook. It also means that the Lakers will have some tough choices defensively while guarding some of the best backcourts in the league. Among the contenders, the Warriors, Rockets, Jazz and Blazers all have pairs of starting guards who can rack up points, with Denver and Sacramento also in the mix. Does that mean Green and James are responsible for guarding CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard on a given night? Or Steph Curry and D’Angelo Russell?It seems more likely that whoever else starts on the wing will take on a guard on defense, but that’s complicated, too. Assuming DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis and Kyle Kuzma start in a scoring-heavy lineup, does Kuzma take on a guard? Or would the Lakers go smaller at the three, say with Caldwell-Pope, and bring either Cousins or Kuzma off the bench? The lack of true wing depth is a little bit of an issue here that might depend entirely on matchups.With a playmaker like James, it makes sense to put him in charge. But as always, unexpected ramifications loom.– Kyle GoonEditor’s note: Thanks for reading the Monday July 8 edition of the Purple & Bold newsletter. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.And here’s the ClickerPicking up the pieces: The Lakers gambled by waiting for Kawhi Leonard and lost.The back-up plan: How the Lakers rebounded by seizing Danny Green, DeMarcus Cousins and other key role players.Summer league scene: The Lakers and Clippers shared an uncomfortable Vegas moment after the landmark Leonard/George deals.How the Clippers cashed in: Mirjam Swanson takes the wheel on the Clippers side of free agency (you should also read her round-up of fan reaction).LA is the center of the basketball universe: Mark Heisler recaps a wild weekend.But what about everyone else? Mark Whicker reflects on how the NBA title isn’t just a two-horse SoCal race.Three-point woes solved? Time will tell if the Lakers have done enough there.More help coming: The Lakers are expected to add Avery Bradley later today. Editor’s note: This is the Monday July 8 edition of the Purple & Bold newsletter. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.What would have the King, the Brow and the Claw looked like together? On the Woj Pod last week, Jared Dudley speculated it would be like the Miami Heat Big Three “but on steroids.”The world will never know.All indications are that Kawhi Leonard didn’t have a strong intention to create a superteam: An ESPN account of Leonard’s much-speculated decision cites that Leonard’s camp delayed the Lakers from chasing other free agents while holding out hope that the neighboring Clippers could execute a trade for Paul George (which they, of course, did). While the Lakers ostensibly missed out on the chance at other free agents while waiting on Leonard, they never were in the lead for any of the others who sealed a max deal, and who mostly seemed content to strike out elsewhere: Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn; Jimmy Butler in Miami; Kemba Walker in Boston; Tobias Harris in Philadelphia; even D’Angelo Russell in a sign-and-trade to Golden State.This has fueled a narrative that has gathered steam since 2017 (when Kyrie Irving wanted out of Cleveland): Is there a reason so many of the NBA’s leading stars don’t seem to want to play with LeBron James? Durant famously poured gas on that last season, by suggesting it made “no sense” for Leonard to want to play with James (a forecast perhaps?).There’s enough heat from that hot take for Joe Vardon of The Athletic to talk to Anthony Davis, the player who did want to saddle up with James, to see what made him different from the others. But even that story accepts the premise that James is often tough on his teammates, and that winning has made that occasional prickly nature easier to swallow:“And that’s been the readout on LeBron for years. He puts enormous pressure on whichever team has him to win, and he can dwell too often on the age difference between him and younger players who feel they’ve earned respect. But playing with him, for eight straight years, was always worth it in the end. His first season in Los Angeles was marred by injuries to him and teammates, but the awkwardness and pressure of playing alongside him were not paid for with even a playoff berth, let alone a finals appearance.”It might not be quite accurate to say James grated on his teammates last season. The nuanced version is that the forces around James were difficult, particularly for younger players who feared (rightfully) that they would be traded to accommodate the pressure to win sooner rather than later.center_img Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Errorlast_img

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