NBA (National Basketball Association)

LeBron James agrees to sign with Los Angeles Lakers on four-year, US$154 million deal that reshapes NBA landscape

The 14-time All Star announces his decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers on first day of free agency

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 July, 2018, 8:56am
UPDATED : Monday, 02 July, 2018, 11:47am

LeBron James chose the Los Angeles Lakers. After five years of missing the playoffs, infighting, turmoil, bad contracts and snubs in free agency, the Lakers got the man whose opinion matters more than anyone else’s every four summers.

The Lakers have a superstar again.

James agreed to a four-year deal worth US$154 million. His camp let the Lakers know minutes before releasing a one-sentence announcement on the Twitter account of Klutch Sports, the agency that represents James.

He didn’t wait long to make his decision. James’ decision came on the first full day of NBA free agency, just 20 hours after the market officially opened.

Late on Saturday night, Magic Johnson went to James’ home in Los Angeles’ Brentwood section to court the league’s biggest star, according to a source not authorised to speak publicly. James slept on their conversation. On Sunday evening, his camp let the Lakers know he’d chosen them, minutes before releasing the one-sentence announcement.

After 15 years in the NBA, James didn’t need lots of convincing or elaborate proposals. He knew how much he loved living in Los Angeles, how his family enjoyed summers in Brentwood. He knew what the Lakers once meant to the NBA. He believed enough in this team’s future and its leadership to sign a four-year deal worth US$154 million.

James’ decision changes the league’s balance of power and gives the Lakers front office led by Johnson and Rob Pelinka its long-anticipated offseason triumph.

In James, they get a four-time NBA most valuable player who’s reached the NBA Finals for the past eight years, winning with his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016 and with the Miami Heat in 2012 and 2013. He was named MVP of all three championship series.

Now he’ll try to match Johnson and Kobe Bryant, both five-time NBA champions, as a member of the team they made famous.

“Y’all really thought he was gonna pass up the greatest city in the world … #TheKingIsHere,” Lakers point guard Lonzo Ball wrote on Twitter.

“The SHOW is back,” teammate Josh Hart tweeted. Kyle Kuzma posted a video graphic of himself hugging James.

“Welcome to the family,” Bryant tweeted, and offered congratulations to Johnson, Pelinka and Lakers co-owner Jeanie Buss.

James’ agent, Rich Paul, had conversations with the Cavaliers and reportedly a meeting with the Philadelphia 76ers in Los Angeles. James flew into L.A. from Anguilla, where he and his family vacationed last week, on Saturday morning and spent the day at home.

That night Paul George, another free-agent star the Lakers were targeting to return to his L.A. roots, shunned the team, opting to return to the Oklahoma City Thunder on a four-year deal worth US$137 million without even taking a meeting with the team he grew up dreaming he’d play for.

This is the second time James has left Cleveland. He did it before in 2010, making his announcement at the end of an hourlong show on ESPN. This time he left with much less fanfare, and having delivered in 2016 Cleveland’s first professional sports championship in 52 years.

That season James and the Cavaliers came back from 3-1 down to beat NBA champions the Golden State Warriors, in the second of four straight Finals matchups with them. But last month, after being swept in the series, James seemed acutely aware of the chasm between the teams’ levels of talent, and his team’s increasing inability to topple the Warriors juggernaut.

Now, James comes to a Lakers team loaded with young players that won just 35 games last year, well below the organisation’s level of historic excellence.

For five years the Lakers wandered through an NBA desert, amid the twilight of Bryant’s career as his body no longer allowed him to be the player who helped lead the team to titles. For five years the 16-time champions couldn’t make the playoffs.

In three of those years they set franchise records for futility. The 55 games they lost in the 2013-14 season were the most in the franchise’s history. Until the next year when they lost 61 and the year after that when they lost 65.

No superstar free agent came to save them. But the Lakers front office kept hoping and assuming.

Dwight Howard, then a coveted centre seen as the second coming of Shaquille O’Neal, arrived in a 2012 trade and left as soon as he could in 2013, unmoved by billboards the Lakers unveiled that said, “Stay.” Carmelo Anthony didn’t come in 2014. DeAndre Jordan didn’t come in 2015. LaMarcus Aldridge didn’t like what he heard that same year. Kevin Durant wouldn’t even listen in 2016.

Then the Lakers tied themselves up by giving long, bloated contracts to free agents Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng, suffocating their own future.

All of it fell on the heads of Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak, then the Lakers’ top front office executives. Jeanie Buss fired them in the spring of 2017. She installed Johnson, one of her closest friends, as the president of basketball operations, fought off an attempted coup from her two older brothers (Jim and Johnny), and then took a step back to see what her hand-picked team could do.

What she wanted more than anything else was to turn the team her late father, Jerry, left her and her siblings back into one that would make him proud.

Johnson and Pelinka came in with a plan to rid the team of bad contracts, assemble young talent and then attract stars starting in the summer of 2018. They traded Mozgov and D’Angelo Russell, freeing millions in salary-cap space. They traded Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jnr to the Cavaliers, of all teams, freeing up more space to add stars.

What if they couldn’t do it? Johnson wouldn’t even entertain the thought.

“Do you know how many Finals I have been in?” Johnson said last week. “So you think I am worried about this? I have played against Larry Bird in the Finals. I mean, come on man. I have been in nine Finals. I have been in college NCAA championships.”

Then he gave himself an ultimatum. If two summers passed and no star free agents joined the Lakers, Johnson would resign from his position.

On the first full day of free agency, Johnson and Pelinka caught the biggest fish there is.