Los Angeles Lakers stars LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook held a phone call this first weekend of the NBA’s Las Vegas Summer League to discuss their commitment to making things work in L.A. Anybody else think that’s the first step in an imminent breakup?
LeBron James is very careful about his image and how he is portrayed by media. Any story that “leaks” or “breaks” about him doesn’t happen by accident. It’s all a part of a carefully calculated plan.
The story of the phone call “breaks” on Monday after it was widely reported that LeBron and Westbrook were at Summer League watching the Lakers’ young players and didn’t interact or so much as acknowledge each other’s presence.
LeBron then plays in the Drew League for this first time since the 2011 NBA lockout and is effusive in his praise of Chicago Bulls star DeMar DeRozan.
— LeBron James (@KingJames) July 17, 2022
Then we have video from the latest episode of LeBron’s HBO series “The Shop” where he makes a passive-aggressive comment about his Lakers teammates.
“What makes me have sleepless nights is when you don’t have everyone that feels the same way on your club,” James said. “It’s times where I wish I was a tennis player, or a golfer, where it’s literally ‘look in the mirror mother******, it’s you versus you.'”
To be fair, we don’t know the rest of the context of LeBron’s comments. But he doesn’t say things by accident or happenstance, particularly on a show where he is the executive producer. If he didn’t want that comment out there, it would’ve been cut. But it wasn’t.
It was passive-aggressive, which is LeBron’s preferred style of communication. He never calls out a teammate or the organization or whomever directly in the media, it’s always an indirect message.
During his second stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers, new teammate Kevin Love was having trouble connecting. We all remember LeBron’s “fit-out” tweet.
Stop trying to find a way to FIT-OUT and just FIT-IN. Be apart of something special! Just my thoughts
— LeBron James (@KingJames) February 8, 2015
That same season, according to Brian Windhorst, before first-year head coach David Blatt’s first practice with the team, LeBron asks Blatt if he could address the team and pulls them all in the locker room for a 45-minute conversation. Undermining Blatt and setting the stage for eventual firing of the head coach.
Then in 2016 LeBron sent a series of tweets that referenced apparent issues he was having with then teammate Kyrie Irving, which ultimately forced Irving to respond in kind.
This is who LeBron is. He wields power in a somewhat unconventional manner, attempting to “keep his hands clean” and avoid culpability.
At 37 years old, soon-to-be-38 LeBron is still producing at an extremely high level. He ranked in the 99th percentile in estimated plus minus (EPM) last season, and 97th percentile in estimated wins (eW). His TS% of 63 and eFG% of 59 are among the highest marks of his 19-year career.
He wants to compete for championships as he finishes out his career and knows that this Lakers team isn’t good enough.
When he makes comments about losing sleep because everyone on the club isn’t committed to winning as much as he is, or that he wishes he played an individual sport (golf and tennis) with no teammates, he is directly speaking to everyone in the Lakers organization, from teammates, to coaches, executives, and ownership, without saying their names directly.
Westbrook is an expiring contract and his poor play last season is an area that LeBron is referencing in his comments. If the reports are true that LeBron wants to reunite with Irving, that means Westbrook would have to go in a salary match situation.
Bringing in Irving, if possible, is a different kind of headache but a gamble LeBron is clearly willing to make because the potential return on the court far exceeds Westbrook’s.
Even in limited action last season due to his refusal to take the COVID-19 vaccine, Irving was +5.8 in EPM and had 6.6 eW. 98th and 88th percentiles respectively. Westbrook was a -1.2 in EPM and had 3.2 eW. 55th and 71st percentiles.
Again, LeBron does nothing by accident, and he’s one of the smartest players to ever play. He knows Irving is better than Westbrook and that having Irving would possibly further his agenda of winning more titles. So the idea of LeBron, Westbrook and AD vowing to “make it work” is laughable. LeBron knows it won’t work. Last season was his proof of concept.
A three-way phone call between stars committing to be better and make it work sounds nice. But this was all a scene they had to play out before the inevitable breakup.