Damian Lillard never doubted LeBron James would sign with the Lakers. That didn’t lessen the impact when he did.
“When he did it, I was like, ‘He really did it,” Lillard, smiling, said after practice Wednesday.
Naturally, Lillard was asked why he automatically assumed James would sign a four-year, $153.3-million deal to join the Lakers and spurn the Cleveland Cavaliers team with which he had spent the last four seasons.
“I mean, why wouldn’t you think it?” Lillard said. “You heard it everywhere: ‘Going to the Lakers!’ And then when it actually happened, I was like, ‘Wow! He signed with the Lakers.’ You know when you think something is going to happen and then when it actually happens, you kind of sit there and say, ‘OK, that’s it.’”
The two have developed a friendship over the years, with Lillard saying he and James are simply “chopping it up like regular people.”
When they exchanged texts this past summer, Lillard asked James for advice.
“One time I asked him about his body maintenance,” Lillard said. “Stuff like that. Fifteen years (in the NBA) and he had his best year in his 15th year. I mean, it’s nothing crazy. It’s just regular conversation.”
James doesn’t have much experience handling a Portland crowd, having spent most of his career in the Eastern Conference. But the time he spent there made an impression.
On the court, their guards, Lillard and C.J. McCollum, impress him.
“They’re two of the toughest 1-2 punches that we have in our league as far as point guards and shooting guards,” James said, immediately mentioning Golden State’s Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. “You put Steph and Klay at the top, you got Dame and CJ, John [Wall] and Brad Beal [in Washington]. You know a couple other guys as well but they’re just as tough as anybody.”
On his Instagram account Tuesday night, James posted some film from practice.
It was a play in a scrimmage that ended with James making a deep, off-balance three-pointer over Kyle Kuzma. James’ team was down three with seven seconds remaining. After he hit the shot, Lance Stephenson caught the rebound and motioned as if he was going to throw the ball at James. In his caption James indicated that Stephenson and Kuzma weren’t pleased about the play.
James also made a three-pointer to close the first half of his final preseason game last week.
Last season, he averaged five three-point attempts per game, which ranked 66th among players. Walton said he hasn’t seen James work too much on expanding his range.
“One of the great things about the way he works is he’s always bringing in other guys in working with him, some of the younger guys, some of the vets, turning it into competitions,” Walton said. “If he’s gonna include other people in his workouts and they start shooting 38-footers as far as their drills, we’re gonna have to shut that down, have a talk.”
Wagner will miss opener
Lakers rookie forward Moe Wagner will miss Thursday’s season opener in Portland. Wagner has been progressing after sustaining a knee contusion in July.
“He’s out there every day now, which is a great start for him, and getting reps,” Walton said. “He’s a really hard worker. He comes in before, stays after, just body feels good, it takes some time.”
When: 7:30 p.m., Thursday.
On Air: TV: TNT; Radio: 710.