LeBron James is confident that the Los Angeles Lakers’ offseason moves will put them in position to defend their NBA championship.
“We can [repeat]. I mean, it’s that simple,” James said on an episode of the podcast “Road Trippin’,” hosted by Richard Jefferson, Channing Frye and Allie Clifton, that aired Tuesday on Spectrum SportsNet. “We absolutely can. … First of all, it all starts with health. You have to have some luck. You have to have health. If we can stay healthy.”
James, participating in his first extended interview since the Lakers left the bubble in Orlando, Florida, with the Larry O’Brien Trophy in tow, then rattled off a few of L.A.’s offseason acquisitions — namely Dennis Schroder, Montrezl Harrell and Marc Gasol — as a source of confidence when considering a title defense.
“We did get younger,” said James, appearing relaxed in a tie-dyed shirt and sipping on a glass of tequila during the episode. “We have a 27-year-old point guard [in Schroder]. We got the 27-year-old Sixth Man of the Year award [winner] in Trezz. We got younger. We got Marc, who is a Defensive Player of the Year and his IQ, not only playing against him in the NBA, but also playing against him versus Spain with the national team.”
James had well-wishes for his former teammates who are no longer with the Lakers, too: Danny Green and Dwight Howard in Philadelphia; Rajon Rondo in Atlanta; JaVale McGee in Cleveland; and free-agent guard Quinn Cook. “Being a part of a championship ballclub, no matter if you play zero minutes or you’re at 30-40 minutes, that s— all ties into one, because we all challenge each other every day,” he said.
Sometimes scrutinized for having a heavy hand when it comes to personnel decisions on the teams he has played for throughout his career, James hinted at some future roster possibilities for the Lakers, who will begin training camp on Thursday.
“Quinn, he’s a pro, he’s definitely going to get a look,” James said. “Hopefully back with us. … Hopefully we may bring him back.”
He also did not close the door on Marc Gasol’s older brother, Pau Gasol, potentially making a return to the franchise where he teamed with Kobe Bryant to win two championships.
“We’ll see,” James said when asked if he thought the 40-year-old Gasol could return to L.A. “We’ll see, I mean, maybe. We’ll see. We’ll see.”
It sounds as if there won’t be much to see from James, who is embarking on his 18th season, during L.A.’s four-game preseason slate starting Dec. 11 with two games against the LA Clippers, followed by two against the Phoenix Suns.
“Preseason, I’m not quite worried about,” he said. “I am rounding 36. … Don’t worry about me in the preseason.”
The exhibition schedule will be the first time the league hosts games in NBA arenas after putting the 2019-20 season on hiatus in March because of the pandemic. James and the Lakers emerged victorious from the 22-team bubble, which required daily COVID-19 testing, but there is skepticism about the NBA’s plan for the 2020-21 season.
“I’m very intrigued on seeing what the protocols are going to be,” James said. “There’s been discussions, there’s been talks. They wanted to make sure that we can get the season going. Obviously for a lot of different reasons.”
Jefferson interrupted James’ thoughts to suggest “money” being a primary motivator for the NBA, with which James agreed.
“The biggest reason,” James said.
League owners believed the NBA could lose anywhere from $500 million to $1 billion by not starting this season by Christmas, according to a report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. “But the safety of our players and the safety of our owners and the safety of our GMs and the safety of our coaches and training staff and things, that’s more important than anything,” James said. “I’m very intrigued in seeing how they deal with this because we all know COVID is still very active. And they actually told us that in the winter, it’s going to be more active than anytime and that’s what we’re in right now — either if you’re seeing snow or not, this is the wintertime and it’s picking up steam. So, I just want to see how we tackle this.”
While James recently shared photos of an on-court workout with his 16-year-old son, Bronny, he revealed on the podcast he has only “touched a basketball twice,” during the truncated offseason. Of course, the last time he had the rock in his hands, things went quite well. James won his fourth NBA title while being named Finals MVP for a fourth time after beating the Miami Heat 4-2 in the championship round.
But not before enduring the challenge of relocating to Florida for more than three months.
“It’s almost the same feeling as the first time you go to a haunted house,” James said. “You get excited with your friends. Your friends are telling you how great it is. And you get juiced up, juiced up and juiced up and juiced up — you really don’t realize how scary that s— is until you get inside of that haunted house. And that’s what I compare to the bubble.
“We were all excited to get back. We were excited to be playing basketball again. I mean, we stopped play in March, so we were all excited, but you don’t really know what you’re getting yourself into until you get inside of the bubble and they tell you, ‘That right there, you cannot go outside that gate.'”
James also reflected on the moment when the Milwaukee Bucks led a wildcat strike during the first round of the playoffs in response to the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. James said the Bucks’ unilateral decision caused uncertainty for the rest of the league.
“They had made a decision to boycott the game because of what happened in their backyard back in Milwaukee, with another innocent Black man being gunned down,” James recalled. “So I got on the phone with Chris Paul, because their game was next, and I called him and Russ [Westbrook] and I told them straight up, ‘There’s no way that we can go out on the floor as the Lakers and play our game with what just transpired. What are you guys going to do?’ And they felt the same way. … We would look stupid if we went out and played and Milwaukee decided to sit down and we’ve been preaching this solidarity thing as a brotherhood. Because we are a brotherhood. Even when you get blindsided from your brother.”
James used a military analogy to try to get his point across.
“When we’re all together as an army, if we’re an army and we’re going out for battle and we say we’re here in solidarity and someone in the front decides to go before we say, ‘Charge!’ Now we’re all caught off guard,” he said. “So that’s what happened. And to be honest, I was ready to walk away. I was ready to walk away. I had called my wife and called my mom and told them that I was probably headed home.”
He also explained his reasoning for walking out of an all-hands-on-deck meeting in the aftermath of the Bucks’ boycott, when several members of the Lakers and Clippers joined him, leaving many in the room thinking those teams would abandon the season.
“When I walked out, we sat there and talked for two, three, four hours and there was still no plan. So I walked out. Because my time is very valuable. And I knew what could help the change,” James said. “But when you’re dealing with a group with a lot of emotional [people], a lot of ego, a lot of guys that are passionate about themselves and what they believe in, then it’s hard to figure out a plan at that very moment. So it was best for me to step out.”
It ended up being a critical juncture in NBA history and one of the many stories from the bubble that will surely be rehashed for years to come.
“Ninety-six days, 95 nights,” James said of his time in the bubble. “I will never forget it.”