Ever since the league year officially began on July 1, there has been a bit of a standoff between the Lakers and their star, LeBron James. It wasn’t enough to keep LeBron from signing a two-year extension with the Lakers, but it’s been fairly clear that there is some tension in the air when it comes to his relationship with Rob Pelinka and the team’s front office.
That exists because while the team has been actively shopping Russell Westbrook, they have been reluctant (or outright refusing) to put their two future first round picks on the table (2027 and 2029) to make a splashier trade. After a woeful start to the season, there were reports the front office was unsure there was even a trade to be made that could fix things this year, indicating the team was not going to pursue anything approaching a ground-shaking move unless things changed considerably on the floor. An upswing was followed by Anthony Davis’ foot injury that seemed to only add further to L.A.’s reluctance to go all-in with this team, as they went 2-5 in their first seven games without their All-Star big man.
Since then, the Lakers are 5-0, with LeBron playing the best ball of his career, and if the early season struggles were the chance for the front office to put their concerns out into the public, this recent hot streak by James has allowed him to return fire with his desire to see reinforcements arrive. While James refuses to say so directly (despite plenty of questions asking him to do just that), he offered Sam Amick of The Athletic a parting quote after the Lakers win on Saturday night against the Kings that was his strongest on the record statement yet.
But how’s your patience level? Is that aspect (of this situation) tugging at you?
They’re doing what they feel is best for the franchise.
How do you feel about that?
I’m doing what’s best for my guys in the locker room. That’s all I can worry about. I’ll let y’all …
A brief pause as he walks away, and one final, unmistakable comment that was shouted from nearly 20 feet away …
Y’all know what the f— should be happening. I don’t need to talk.
James is well aware of his perception as LeGM, and he’s taken it upon himself to try and push back on that by insisting he doesn’t have constant dialogue with the front office and isn’t part of personnel decisions. Part of the problem in this instance is the Lakers also see an issue with how people view who is actually in charge, and what seems to be playing out is a power struggle between James (and, more broadly, Klutch Sports Group) and the Lakers brass after years in which they signed players that seemed to come with LeBron’s stamp of approval.
The failure of the Russell Westbrook trade, when they scrapped a Buddy Hield deal to land Westbrook at the behest of James and Davis, seems to have been the moment the relationship shifted and since, the Lakers have seemed determined to do things on their terms. The problem is, the roster they’ve constructed makes just as little sense as the one put together a year ago, and upgrades need to be made. James has made his peace with the failure of the Westbrook trade to have the desired effect, even if Russ is playing better in a bench role this year, but the Lakers aren’t quite ready to go all-in again.
So, as the trade deadline approaches in a month, the Lakers find themselves in an internal standoff, and until that is resolved, it seems there won’t be much done externally to fix their issues.