When the King moved to L.A., everyone assumed stars would follow, but according to some of those players, the challenge of playing in the shadow of a legend and the scrutiny that surrounds him may not hold the appeal we all thought it would.
It had to be Cleveland. That was why LeBron James had to escape the first time to Miami to finally play with two other stars in Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Which stars in their primes would have left to join him in Northeast Ohio? No one signs up for that if they have other options. Throw in the fear of being stranded there if LeBron left, and it was simply too much for any top-shelf talent to bear.
LeBron leaving the first time allowed the Cavaliers to reload via the draft with two No. 1 picks. But they traded one of them (for Kevin Love), and the other (Kyrie Irving) decided he didn’t want to deal with the LeBron limbo either. Looking at yet another relatively bare cupboard and knowing all too well the bleak prospects of filling it, LeBron bolted for a team and a town that sell themselves.
So now that he’s in balmy Los Angeles on a four-year deal—the longest he’s signed since he went to Miami—why have we seen and heard about more stars being reluctant to join forces than those eager to ride with the train conductor who has punched tickets to eight consecutive NBA Finals?
As it turns out, based on conversations with more than a dozen players, there are quite a few reasons. Most obvious, perhaps, is the fact that everyone, no matter how accomplished, becomes a role player next to LeBron.
“If you’ve got LeBron, you’ve got to make it all about LeBron,” Tyson Chandler said a few days before he became LeBron’s teammate in early November. “You’ve got to be able to [coexist] with that and fit with that. Who are you, where are you in your career, and how do you fit in? It’s a sacrifice, but it’s a sacrifice for winning.”
That’s perfectly fine for someone such as Chandler, a 36-year-old, rim-protecting veteran who jumped at the chance to escape Phoenix and take his curtain call with his hometown Lakers next to, arguably still, the most physically gifted player in the league even as he’s closing in on his 34th birthday.
When it comes to players in their primes, though, there have been more “no thank yous” than “sign me ups” to this point. Paul George opted to stay in Oklahoma City this summer after previously talking about how much he would love playing for the Lakers. Jimmy Butler, in his trade demand to the Minnesota Timberwolves before he was moved to the Philadelphia 76ers, reportedly had the Knicks, Nets and Clippers on his list—three of the four teams in New York or L.A. with potential maximum-salary cap room next season. Rumors are that Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard, who similarly forced his way out of San Antonio and has allegedly professed a desire to play close to his boyhood home in Riverside, California, is more interested in the Clippers than the Lakers.
If you’ve got LeBron, you’ve got to make it all about LeBron. You’ve got to be able to [coexist] with that and fit with that.
— Tyson Chandler
To be fair, when it became evident James intended to leave the Cavaliers a second time this summer, young stars such as 76ers center Joel Embiid posted social media pleas for him to join their teams. Was that Embiid simply being a jester, not for the first time, or showing respect, all the while knowing there wasn’t any real chance of LeBron actually responding? Who knows? All that doesn’t change the fact that one All-Star (George) who could have joined him didn’t and at least one other (Butler) never so much as expressed an interest.
“It depends on what kind of player you are,” Durant said. “If you’re Kyle Korver, then it makes sense. Because Kyle Korver in Atlanta was the bulk of the offense, and he’s not a No. 1 option at all, not even close. So his talents benefit more from a guy who can pass and penetrate and get him open.
“If you’re a younger player like a Kawhi, trying to pair him with LeBron James doesn’t really make sense. Kawhi enjoys having the ball in his hands, controlling the offense, dictating the tempo with his post-ups; it’s how he plays the game. A lot of young players are developing that skill. They don’t need another guy.”
But LeBron may need that at this stage of his career. After Irving forced a trade to the Boston Celtics two summers ago, James dragged the Cavs to the Finals for a fourth straight time but was swept by the Warriors. If he hopes to compete with the Warriors again, it is clear he needs help, especially now being on the Golden State side of the bracket. The challenge of having to knock off a three-time champion, especially if the Warriors can keep their core mostly intact, also muddies the appeal for an incoming star. He would have to sacrifice his exalted status without even reasonable assurance he’s going to be in the Finals, much less win a ring.
“If I was a free agent, I would have to consider everything,” veteran swingman Trevor Ariza said. “But my role is different than PG and Kawhi. They ask them to do different things than they ask of me. Guys similar to [LeBron], why would they want to play with somebody who does all the same things? I can see why they would want to play elsewhere.”
The Lakers structured their salary cap to make sure they would have space next summer for a maximum-salaried player—whether he comes via free agency or trade. League sources say that when James became convinced Irving couldn’t be persuaded to stay in Cleveland, he suggested to the Cavs front office that it deal Irving to the Blazers for All-Star point guard Damian Lillard. The Cavs never called the Blazers, but James’ interest has led to speculation about the Lakers trading for Lillard.
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SOURCE: Bleacher Report – Ric Bucher