On the surface, it's easy to figure out why LeBron James chose to be a Los Angeles Laker.
A man so impatient to win NBA titles already has three and, by taking a patient approach, may have the chance to add more in Los Angeles.
It's more complicated than that, though.
Yes, he appeared to have one foot out the door from the day after the Cleveland Cavaliers were swept in the NBA Finals by a team — Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry's Golden State Warriors — that will remain the team to beat in the Western Conference, but there are a variety of factors that led to his four-year, $154 million deal. Here are just five:
1. He lands in a city he loves.
OK, the overheated social media response to a video of him arriving at a Southern California airport did time perfectly with his announcement on Sunday. But the video could have been shot last offseason or the offseason before that. Los Angeles is where LeBron likes to live; he has two homes there. It's also a perfect place to be when his career ends, as he likely will become even more involved with the movie production company he owns. Many suspect his next fortune will be made in the entertainment industry.
Y’all really thought he was gonna pass up the greatest city in the world... #TheKingIsHere— Lonzo Ball (@ZO2_) July 2, 2018
2. He's old school.
James is an American Midwest guy, and though he's leaving those roots behind in Ohio, he's moving to a franchise where he will play for a man he grew up respecting: Michigan-born Magic Johnson. Think about what Johnson's career arc looks like. He made his first fortune in basketball and then added another as a businessman before returning to the team he led to so many NBA Finals. LeBron, in a very real sense, is Magic for this millennium: A man who made his name in sports but whose creativity and curiosity, intellect and drive have reached far beyond lines on hardwood floors. Saturday's meeting between the two merely formalised the relationship.
3. He's a family man
James' family enjoys Southern California and, importantly, his teen son, LeBron Jr., can become involved in the very competitive AAU and high school basketball scene there. Sure, Bronny, 13, likely could reach his basketball potential anywhere — disposable income has that effect. But place the two factors of SoCal and the competitive basketball landscape side by side and it's a winning combination.
4. There are basketball facets, too.
When Jeanie Buss took over control of the Lakers three years ago, she first sought Magic Johnson's advice on an ad hoc basis, but then eventually hired him as president of basketball operations. Johnson has positioned the team to be built into a monster. Don't focus on the likes of Paul George and Chris Paul who have said "thanks, but no thanks", instead consider this: The Lakers have enough salary-cap flexibility and attractive assets that a concerted push to build a title winner could happen relatively quickly.
So when you see reports claiming Kawhi Leonard still wants to be a Laker, pay attention. The Lakers have also reportedly shown interest in signing free-agent center DeMarcus Cousins, seen by many as the best big man in the NBA. The monster could be looming over the Western Conference in the near future.
5. Finally, LeBron can afford to be patient.
By most accounts, Magic appears willing to keep his young team intact and wait until next offseason to do some heavy lifting. Barring an unlikely change of heart on an extension with the San Antonio Spurs, Leonard will be an unrestricted free agent next offseason. Kemba Walker and Jimmy Butler hit the free agent market in 2019, too, as does Klay Thompson — his dad, Mychal, who played for the Lakers, is on the team's broadcast crew — and that's where it gets interesting.
Sign Thompson and you not only improve your team, but also weaken your rival, the Warriors. That clearly was the thinking behind James reportedly texting Kevin Durant, trying to persuade him to join him in L.A. It might take a season or two, but this team will get built around James — with a plan. That is in stark contrast to the way his situation devolved in Cleveland, which left James impatient for improvement and led to the Cavaliers again losing their hometown hero.
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