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NBA Daily: The Next Chapter Begins

For LeBron James, this round of free agency was about more than just seeking a championship. Steve Kyler explains why the Lakers ultimately won the NBA’s biggest free agency prize and why Lakers president Magic Johnson won the day.

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Updated 10 months ago on
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The Next Chapter Begins

The biggest free agent shoe dropped at 8:05 pm on July 1 when LeBron James’ agency dropped a press release confirming reports that he was joining the Los Angeles Lakers.

No one should have been surprised. There were rumors for months that James was likely heading into the next chapter of his career and that the Lakers had everything he was looking for.

It’s important to point out that despite posting arguably his best season as a professional, James has been looking at and talking about life after basketball for a while.

He has a burgeoning production company with offices on the Warner Brothers Studios lot in Los Angeles. He owns two homes in Southern California and has spent his summers there for some time. This wasn’t hard math, especially with Magic Johnson running the show.

It’s been a while since LeBron truly trusted the front office of the team he played for. The appeal of the Miami HEAT was the trust he felt with Pat Riley. That trust ultimately soured when economics made “sacrifice” the mantra of the relationship, despite overwhelming success on and off the floor.

When James opted to return to Cleveland, he did so with his guard completely up. His contracts were structured to ensure he remained at the top of the NBA salary food chain, a situation he could then control. It gave him tremendous influence because he could exit at any time, and his representative had no problem flexing on James’ behalf when it was required. While it didn’t always create the environment others hoped, it protected and insulated James. something he felt he needed.

This time around, James was seeking safety and security. He was seeking an organization with a history of taking care of its stars and rewarding them even in their twilight, and that’s ultimately why the Lakers won out, despite teams that might be a little closer to competing for an NBA Championship.

This move wasn’t about joining an existing championship contender, mainly because James understands he is the catalyst to any team being a contender, as he proved in Cleveland last season. Give him a few guys that want to play like he plays, and he’ll handle the rest.

It’s a big reason the Lakers have agreed to deals with the likes of former Pacer Lance Stevenson and former Pelican Rajon Rondo.

These might not be the sexiest acquisitions by the Lakers, but it goes to show that this was never about joining a star-studded roster. In the end, it was about trusting someone with the balance of his career, something he couldn’t do in Cleveland and didn’t feel the connection within other markets.

In the end, Magic Johnson won the day because of LeBron’s undying affections for Johnson as a player, a mentor, and a businessman. Johnson is someone who understands exactly the life LeBron is living and how to help him achieve the next part of his career—a Hollywood ending.

Family played a huge role in all of this, too. The fact that James’ oldest son LeBron James Jr. can join basketball powerhouse Sierra Canyon and ultimately play with other sons of NBA greats was a huge factor. But also worth considering is the idea that Junior might actually be able to play with his father in the NBA. Perhaps even in a Lakers jersey.

That was the dream LeBron James couldn’t pass up, and in Johsnon, he has someone he can trust to help him transition from being the top player in the NBA to life after basketball when the time is right.

The Lakers roster will flesh out. The addition of James puts the Lakers in the playoffs next year, even as constructed now. The deals agreed to so far are one-year situations, meaning the Lakers will have tremendous flexibility next summer and will have the means to sign the likes of Kawhi Leonard in 2019.

It is easy to look at this situation through the basketball prism and judge and grade it on its basketball merits alone, but this decision was about so much more than that. It is why it could only be the Lakers in the end.

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Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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