Hi, this is Tania Ganguli, Lakers beat writer for the L.A. Times, here with a midsummer newsletter to catch us all up on a very busy offseason.
Here’s hoping for a little peace and quiet until training camp starts … although, who are we kidding? These are the Lakers. They had a penchant for drama before they were LeBron James’ team, and they’ll have it even more now.
A week ago, I was in Akron, Ohio, for a trip to learn more about the city that made James. In some ways, Akron reminded me a little of my time in Flint, Mich. Here was an upper-Midwestern city that has produced NBA stars, a place whose major source of jobs was part of the auto industry and where kids can fall through the cracks if the proper support system — whether parents, teachers or coaches — isn’t there to catch them.
James lived a hard life as a kid, but he got lucky. That was a major theme repeated by people who know him in trying to explain James’ motivation for spearheading the creation of the I Promise School, a public, non-charter school he helped open last week. More than one person said James wanted to pay forward the support he received from the Akron community, which gave him the foundation to become arguably the greatest basketball player in the world.
The number of coaches, neighbors and friends who helped James and his mother weather a difficult time made an impact on James.
The school opened eight days ago, and you can read about it here. So much has happened since then, but so much happened before that too. My last newsletter came out before the offseason began. We’ll catch you up on everything here.
But first …
The Lakers’ youngsters are in for a new kind of leadership
James didn’t take many questions after the ceremony to open the I Promise School. It was the first time he had spoken to reporters since choosing to play for the Lakers. His brief remarks about his new team focused on the kind of mentality he plans to instill in the locker room: He wants his team to have championship habits.
“When it comes to championship habits, that doesn’t mean you win a championship. It means you [practice] excellence every day,” James said. “I expect that not only from myself but from my teammates. That’s what [owner] Jeanie [Buss], that’s what Magic [Johnson], that’s what [general manager] Rob [Pelinka] will want. That’s what Luke [Walton] is gonna want. We shouldn’t sell ourselves short of that.”
James met with Coach Walton in Las Vegas. He met with Johnson, the president of operations, the night before he agreed to sign with the Lakers. He got a phone call from new teammate Kyle Kuzma the moment he agreed to the deal, as James was on his way to Europe. He greeted players Josh Hart and Brandon Ingram at the game in Vegas too.
Having a teammate who can teach them how to win will be a new experience for the young Lakers. They were asked to be the leaders last season. This year, they’ll be asked to learn.
“I did my due diligence after the season,” James said, “pros and cons of a lot of different teams, including the Cavs, including Philadelphia, including Houston and Los Angeles. It wasn’t as quick as it may seem. … After kind of talking to my family more than anybody, I felt like this was the next step in my journey. What my expectations are for the team, we don’t have any right now, but we definitely want to be better than we were the previous year.”
Catching up on the summer
— The Lakers signed LeBron James.
— James’ signing completed a mission that family patriarch Jerry Buss first tried to set in motion eight years ago.
— Paul George stayed in Oklahoma City without even taking a meeting with the Lakers. That scared some people in the organization, even though many were confident about landing James. The first domino that led to George’s making the decision to stay fell when the Lakers opted not to trade for him last summer. It made George feel underappreciated. Meanwhile, the Thunder traded young star Victor Oladipo and embraced George throughout the year, right up until he was set to hit free agency. George built a strong relationship with Russell Westbrook during that time and decided to stick around.
— Kawhi Leonard got traded — but not to the Lakers. Leonard will start next season as a member of the Toronto Raptors. The big questions from a Lakers perspective are these: Will Leonard wind up like George, a player who had expressed a desire to play for the Lakers, then shunned them? Is there still urgency for the Lakers to land Leonard, if not this season then next summer? There’s no hard answer for either yet. Leonard and George are different people. It’s likely that George knew the Lakers had a good shot at landing James, so that likely didn’t impact his thinking. So many talented players signed deals they can get out of next summer. Add them to the already expected strong free-agent class and Leonard might not be the end-all, be-all for the Lakers. Having James offers the team more flexibility and less urgency to rest their hopes on one player.
— Lonzo Ball had knee surgery, two months after receiving a platelet-rich plasma injection in the same knee. He’s had a sprained MCL, a torn meniscus and a bruise in that knee. He’s expected to be ready for training camp.
— The Lakers signed a bunch of veterans to one-year deals — Rajon Rondo, longtime LeBron James irritant Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee and Michael Beasley. All of that led to jokes, hand-wringing and head-scratching from some. Beasley rose up in defense of the group.
— Julius Randle left to play for the Pelicans, after a year in which he never truly felt part of the Lakers’ future.
— Rob Pelinka read us a book.
— James’ first Lakers jersey will look like a throwback “Showtime” jersey.
— President Donald Trump caught a re-airing of an interview James did on Monday with CNN, then insulted James’ intelligence on Twitter. Many people, including Jeanie Buss and Michael Jordan, responded in support of James.
— James said nothing, but he will be the executive producer on a Showtime docuseries, “Shut up and dribble.”
That’s all for now. See you in September.
Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli