LeBron James Tempers Expectations in Lakers’ Return to Competitiveness

L-R) Lakers’ Lonzo Ball, LeBron James, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram pose for a photo during media day at the UCLA Health Training Facility in El Segundo, Calf. (Photo by J. Diaz/Lakers.com)
L-R) Lakers’ Lonzo Ball, LeBron James, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram pose for a photo during media day at the UCLA Health Training Facility in El Segundo, Calf.

By Lauren A. Jones

The Los Angeles Lakers held media day on Monday, Sept. 24. It was different from just one year prior as dozens of media members filed into the UCLA Health Training Facility in El Segundo eagerly awaiting the first signs of LeBron James. It was the first time James addressed media since signing a $153.3 million contract to become a Los Angeles Laker.

“There are just certain uniforms that when you put on, you have a certain sense of pride,” commented James. “You feel not only in the present, but you also remember the ones who came before you, who laid the path for you to get to this point.”

As a three-time NBA champion and four-time NBA MVP, James joined the Lakers along with veterans Rajon Rondo, JaVale McGee, Lance Stephenson, and Michael Beasley this offseason. These signings with the help of the Lakers’ young core in Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Kyle Kuzma, is looking to break the team’s five-year playoff drought, the longest in franchise history.

“I don’t believe the only mark of success is winning a championship,” James told the L.A. Sentinel. “There’s only one champion, but that doesn’t mean you’re not successful. There’s going to be wins and losses, things of that nature. But what you can control is how you prepare every day, how we prepare every day to get better every day.”

In the start of his 15th season in the NBA, James was quick to set expectations as he spoke.

LeBron James addresses the media for the first time since signing with the Lakers in July at the UCLA Health Training Facility in El Segundo, Calf. (Photo by Ryan Young/Los Angeles Lakers)Photo by Ryan Young/Los Angeles Lakers
LeBron James addresses the media for the first time since signing with the Lakers in July at the UCLA Health Training Facility in El Segundo, Calf.

“We got a long way to go to get to Golden State,” James said. “They can pick up right where they left off starting with training camp if they start today or whenever they start.”

The defending champion Golden State Warriors are just one of several competitive Western Conference opponents the Lakers will have to face. Without having played in a single game, James was confident that the team will find success so long as the focus is on building chemistry and getting better.

“We’re a new ball club coming together,” James continued. “There’s going to be good times, there’s going to be bad times, that’s what happens with a team that’s new. But if we continue to work the process and we continue to sacrifice for one another and put in the commitment and time to being great, then everything else will fall into place.”

James with a stoic demeanor exited his introductory press conference as a Los Angeles Laker looking on to the season.

While James kept his excitement close to the vest on media day, the same could not be said for Magic Johnson, president of basketball operations, and general manager Rob Pelinka, general manager. It was all smiles from Johnson and Pelinka as they addressed media on Thursday, Sept. 20 as a precursor to the Lakers media day.

During the offseason, a “Magic” Film Session happened between Rajon Rondo, Lonzo Ball, and Rob Pelinka.

Johnson spoke highly of Ball, the second-year point guard, describing this as his “breakout season.” The former Laker legend detailed how each of the off season additions was intentional to contribute to the development of the team’s young core mentioning Rondo, in particular, who the Lakers signed to a one-year deal.

“Rondo will help Lonzo go to another level,” Magic commented. “His basketball IQ is off the charts.”

When Ball reached out to Magic about having additional film sessions, the former Laker great was ‘blown away.’ It was a no-brainer to invite their newly signed former NBA champion point guard in Rondo as well as Pelinka.

“Me being 20-years-old and sitting down with the best point guard ever [in Magic Johnson], it was very powerful,” Ball remarked humbly. “When Rondo talks you’re going to listen and when Magic talks you’ve got to listen.”

The former Lakers’ number two overall pick in the 2017 Draft missed 30 games last season as a rookie mostly due to what the Lakers listed as a midseason left MCL sprain and a late-season left knee bruise. On July 17, Ball had surgery on his torn left meniscus and he has been sidelined ever since.

Though he was restricted from basketball activities, he worked on his physical health adding visible size and getting to know his veterans better.

“He obviously can do it all and he’s a very unselfish player,” Rondo observed during their film sessions. “Watching a young guy at that age being able to share the ball is very refreshing. It’s encouraging that there are point guards coming up who still play the right way.”

Rondo described Ball’s greatest assets as ‘the intangibles.’ When asked whether he was looking forward to stepping into the mentorship role, Rondo nodded without hesitation.

“That’s why I’m here,” he remarked.

Ball announced at media day that he is cleared to play. Lakers coach Luke Walton told ESPN that there is no rush to bring Ball back until he is completely healthy. As a result, Rondo is the projected starter at point guard while Ball makes his full recovery. With Rondo’s leadership and ability to see the floor, the Lakers will not have to risk bring Ball back in too soon. Ball will participate in all except for five-on-five contact drills during the Laker’s training camp.

The team began training camp on Tuesday, Sept. 25 in El Segundo. The Lakers play their first preseason game Sunday, Sept. 30 against the Denver Nuggets. The regular season begins with the Lakers visiting the Portland Trail Blazers on Oct. 18.

Playing with arguably the best player in the NBA comes with high expectations. The young core, offseason additions, coaches and front office are all in accord: with James leading the franchise, its return to competitiveness is imminent.

This article originally appeared in the Los Angeles Sentinel.

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