This must be an enormous surprise to LeBron James.
Recently, people have publicly said that top NBA stars do not want to play James’ wingman in Los Angeles. That he’s a bit of a load with issues about controlling the ball, team culture and the headlines.
What? They don’t want to play with the best player in the world?
This is nothing new, of course. The question of who would be LeBron’s best teammate has fueled loads of shouty media debates. It usually comes down to James’ legacy and whether the Official Sports Media Code requires that we add the words, “the greatest basketball player in the world,” every time we invoke his name.
But this is different. These aren’t sports-site populists.
These are members of the inner circle; the elite few who play the game at its highest level. This is peer to peer.
What they are saying is simple: If you’re going to play with LeBron, your job is to serve LeBron. He will have the ball, he will tell you where to go and he will be the star. And to them, it doesn’t sound appealing.
The Warriors’ Kevin Durant led the way in an interview with Bleacher Report.
“If you’re a younger player, like a Kawhi (Leonard), trying to pair him with LeBron James doesn’t really make sense,” Durant told Ric Bucher. “Kawhi enjoys having the ball … controlling the offense. A lot of young players are developing that skill. They don’t need another guy.”
Another guy? Ouch. Does that sound like a “step aside, old fella” moment to you?
Two things. Durant’s comments, if you read everything he said, make perfect sense. He doesn’t take shots at LeBron. He’s even-handed. For instance, he goes out of his way to give credit to Kevin Love for realizing he had to change his game in Cleveland because of James. And that he did so.
Durant is not the only one in the story.
“If you’ve got LeBron, you’ve got to make it about LeBron,” Tyson Chandler said. (Who, by the way, said that just before he was traded to the Lakers. Awkward.)
But something else Chandler said shouldn’t be overlooked.
“It’s a sacrifice,” he said, “but it’s a sacrifice for winning.”
And that’s the real question, isn’t it? James has dragged inferior teams to the NBA Finals before. He may do it again.
So, if you’re an up-and-coming NBA superstar, do you want to join Team LeBron and subjugate your game for a chance at a ring?
It sounds like the answer around the league is starting to be, “Naw. I’m good.”
You know the list. Kyrie Irving demanded to be traded the year AFTER winning the NBA championship with James. At one time Paul George was openly campaigning to play for the Lakers.
Instead, he elected to stay in Oklahoma City with that generous sharer of the basketball, Russell Westbrook. Surely that says something.
Stories have appeared that Leonard, now in Toronto, would like to return to the LA area, but with the Clippers, rather than the Lakers, at least partly because of James.