LeBron James wants to make one thing clear: His job is to run the offense for the Los Angeles Lakers, not the franchise.
Ahead of Tuesday’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers — which resulted in a 133-115 Clips win despite 46 points from LeBron, the Lakers’ 10th straight loss to their Crypto.com Arena co-tenant — Lakers general manager and vice president of basketball operations Rob Pelinka conducted a rare in-season press conference to introduce Rui Hachimura, whom the Lakers acquired on Monday.
Pelinka echoed his sentiments from Media Day when he stated that, while the Lakers want to exhaust every resource to build a championship contender for LeBron’s twilight years, they aren’t going to cash in all their chips to marginally improve the current roster.
“Let me be abundantly clear: We have one of the great players in LeBron James to ever play the game on our team, and he committed to us with a long-term contract,” Pelinka said in late September. “So, of course, we will do everything we can, picks included, to make deals that give us a chance to help LeBron get to the end. He committed to our organization – that’s gotta be a bilateral commitment.
“But let me also be clear: Teams can’t trade all their picks every year,” Pelinka added, citing the Stepien Rule. “You have one shot to make a trade with multiple picks … So, if you make that trade, it has to be the right one.”
Here’s what Pelinka uttered four months later, with his team sitting at 22-26 but on the verge of playoff contention with Anthony Davis set to return from a 20-game absence (the Lakers were able to tread water at 10-10).
“I think the calculus for the Lakers is to win a championship or not. There’s no in-between or incremental growth. So, as we analyze opportunities, we have to do it through that lens. … If there’s an opportunity to get all the way to the end and win a championship, there’s no resource we’ll hold onto if we feel like that’s there.
“The completely unwise thing to do would be to shoot a bullet early and then not have it later when you have a better championship move to make. So that’s a really delicate calculus.
“If we see a move that puts us as a frontrunner to get another championship — the 18th one here — we’ll make it. And if that move doesn’t present itself, we’ll be smart and make it at a later time.”
The Lakers will have more cap flexibility, the draft, and a third tradable first-round pick to mess around with this summer.
“If there’s an opportunity to get all the way to the end and win a championship, there’s no resource we’ll hold onto if we feel like that’s there.”
Rob Pelinka on the Lakers’ potentially trading their 1st round picks as the trade deadline nears.
— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) January 25, 2023
With that context in mind, check out LeBron — who, at 38 and playing All-NBA-level basketball, understandably wants the Lakers to deal future assets for immediate upgrades — respond to a postgame question about Pelinka’s words, specifically the “shoot the bullet early” remark. As he has done a few times in recent weeks when asked about front-office matters, LeBron testily pushed back.
“He said it to you guys. He was talking to you. He wasn’t talking to us. Rob’s gonna do his job … My job is to be on the floor and make sure my guys in the locker room are ready.”
Here’s video of LeBron’s response to Pelinka’s comments.
LeBron has been increasingly testy when asked about trade deadline/front office stuff over the past few weeks.pic.twitter.com/lgK3uKyQ1X
— Michael Corvo (@michaelcorvoNBA) January 25, 2023
LeBron has often used the media (and cryptic Instagram stories) to take not-so-subtle jabs at the front office (including after the first game of 2022-23) in attempts to put pressure on Pelinka. In December, for instance, he said it wasn’t in his DNA to continue to play for losing teams.
LeBron continues to emphasize how not competing for titles at this stage of his career is not in his “DNA” pic.twitter.com/as6th2FQhB
— Michael Corvo (@michaelcorvoNBA) January 7, 2023
Earlier this month, he told The Athletic “Y’all know what the f—k should be happening” in relation to trades, though he tweeted his disapproval of how the comment was categorized. Even after a quality win vs. the Memphis Grizzlies last week (prior to the Hachimura acquisition), LeBron lamented the Lakers’ lack of frontcourt size.
Last season, things got tense between LeBron and the front office around the trade deadline. LeBron and Anthony Davis — who wanted the Lakers to trade for John Wall — were incensed at Pelinka stating that the stars and management were aligned. LeBron then spent All-Star weekend threatening to go back to Cleveland and lauding Oklahoma City Thunder GM Sam Presti and Los Angeles Rams GM Les Snead. (The Rams aggressively traded picks for stars and won a Super Bowl, only to suffer the harsh consequences one year later.)
Throughout his career — especially during his second stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers — LeBron and Klutch unabashedly leveraged (via one-year contracts) the front office into making win-now moves, earning the oft-mocked “LeGM” moniker. (ESPN’s Brian Windhorst published an eye-opening expose on how few first-round picks LeBron has actually played with.)
Since arriving in Los Angeles, James pushed for the AD (good) and Russell Westbrook deals (bad), which has left the team devoid of continuity, championship-caliber depth, and tradable draft capital. But, once LeBron signed the two-year extension in August, he surrendered any actual leverage to the front office, unless he demands a trade next summer.
It feels like LeBron is done publicly sending passive-aggressive messages to upper management and making headlines at the podium. Two weeks away from the Feb. 9 trade deadline, LeBron is strategically distancing himself from basketball operations.
His play is doing enough talking, anyway.