EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – Five minutes. That’s how long before LeBron James — four-time MVP, three-time NBA champion, nine-time NBA Finalist and, now, the newest franchise savior of the Los Angeles Lakers — made a statement at Lakers media day that got the internet buzzing.
“I don’t believe the only [mark] of success is winning a championship,” James said, responding to a question about what he would deem a successful season in L.A. “There’s only one champion, but that doesn’t mean you’re not successful.”
Woah. LeBron James thinks there can be a successful season without a championship? Immediately, social-media sleuths unearthed old James quotes, like one he made in 2011, when after getting mowed down by the Dallas Mavericks in the Finals, James declared the season a failure. Twitter — always a home for rational discourse — savaged James for lowering the bar.
Get ready, NBA, because the silly season has already begun. Never mind that James was being honest, that the mere suggestion that this Lakers team — comprised of a solid core of young players and a collection of mercenaries on short-term deals — could ever be a threat to win a championship is goofy. Later, James was asked how L.A. measured up against Golden State.
That’s three-time NBA champion, four-time NBA Finalist, just-signed-All-NBA-center-DeMarcus Cousins Golden State.
Said James, “We have a long way to go to get to Golden State.”
Monday was media day for most of the NBA and no team drew a bigger crowd than the Lakers. Hundreds of media members filtered through the Lakers’ sparkling, $80 million training center, cramming into plastic folding chairs to get a first look at James in a Lakers uniform and following him as he moved from interview to photo shoot, cellphones held high to record every move.
James was, well, James. He declined to make any bold prediction on the Lakers’ season (“My expectation is to try to get better every single day,” James said. “I don’t expect nothing. You work for what you want.”), shrugged at the suggestion the Lakers system would require an adjustment (“My game does not change no matter who I’m alongside.”), and reinforced that his decision to sign with L.A. was a basketball one.
“My decision was based solely on my family and the Lakers,” James said. “I’m a basketball player. I play ball, that’s what I do. That’s what I live by, and when I do it the way I do it, everything takes care of itself. As far as my business, that took care of itself way before I became part of the Lakers franchise.”
Indeed. There seems to be a perception that James’ new L.A. address has kick-started his production company. The reality is James’ HBO show “The Shop,” “Shut Up and Dribble” — an upcoming series on Showtime that James will executive produce — and his involvement with the recently announced sequel to “Space Jam” were in the works well before James inked a four-year, $154 million free-agent deal with the Lakers.
Asked how he would juggle his off-court interests with his on-court work, James looked back at a reporter, quizzically, and asked, “How long have you been following me?”
Still, if there’s anything to quibble about with James it’s that the Lakers somehow represented the best basketball decision. This season will be a challenge. James will have to instill winning habits in Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma, players who have known nothing but losing in their short NBA careers. He will have to glue them together with Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson and JaVale McGee, vets who are playing for the Lakers — and their next contracts.
“It’s definitely exciting, for sure,” James said. “You see how many ball-handlers, guys that can do multiple things, pass, shoot, rebound, put the ball on the court, and get out and run. It’s going to be fun to see how I can implement myself into that, and we all implement each other and get the best out of each other. Tomorrow is like the first day of school. You know what to expect, but at the same time, you don’t know what to expect with me being my first time here with this franchise and this system as well. I’ll look forward to seeing how I can work and how we can work together.”
The battle for the starting point-guard spot looms as the Lakers’ most interesting camp subplot. Ball is the incumbent, a 35-minute-per-game starter last season, while Rondo is fresh off a brilliant postseason performance with the Pelicans. And James, who battled Rondo for years when the guard was in Boston, offered high praise for his new teammate.
“He’s always been one of the most cerebral players, smartest players that I’ve competed against,” James said. “And one of the most competitive guys I’ve competed against. He knows everything that’s going on [out] on the floor, he knows everything you’re doing, everything the team is doing, all the strengths and the weaknesses. Sometimes when you see yourself in someone on the opposing side, that’s where you think someday it would be crazy if you ever teamed up and joined forces with that type of cerebral mentality when you know exactly what’s going on every possession.
“It’s going to be a cool moment when I step on the floor with him, just knowing that the things he’s seeing are the things that I’m seeing, without us having to say anything. There’s not many of us in this league that can actually think and prepare with our minds before we even step on the floor and actually play the game like the two of us.”
Will Rondo accept a full-time role as a backup, something he has not been since his rookie season?
Will Ball chafe at a reduced role?
And what will LaVar Ball have to say about it?
And what about coach Luke Walton? Walton — like James, a member of the 2003 draft class — was all smiles on Monday. “Today kind of feels like when you’re a kid, that night before Christmas,” Walton said. But Walton’s task is formidable. He has a fast-paced team and a slow-playing superstar, a roster loaded with non-shooters playing off James, who for years has coveted spacing, and analysts everywhere ready to seize on every three-game losing streak to wonder if Walton — and this is where we remind you that Walton was not hired by current Lakers management — is the right man for the job.
The Lakers are playing the long game with LeBron, hoping that his intensity rubs off on the young players they want to keep around and his presence entices a top free agent to reinforce them.
Will the road there be bumpy? Probably.
Could James’ streak of 13 straight playoff seasons be in jeopardy? Absolutely.
Is James wishing he was sitting next to Chris Paul and James Harden in Houston, or back in the comfortable environment of Cleveland? Not likely. On Monday, James acknowledged the challenge in front of him — and embraced it.
“There’s going to be wins and losses and things of that nature,” James said. “But what you can control is how you prepare every day. How we prepare every day to get better every day. We’re a new ballclub coming together. We have to take our bumps and our bruises. There are going to be good times and bad times. That’s what happens with a team that’s new. But if we continue to work the process and continue to sacrifice for one another and put in the commitment and the time to be great, everything will fall into place.”
More from Yahoo Sports:
• Tiger’s win is the greatest comeback in sports history
• White Sox star says what many think about umpire
• Charles Robinson: Latest flag on Packers’ Matthews may be worst yet
• Rams’ Gurley really isn’t a fan of Thursday games