LeBron is tired of waiting for Lakers moves: What our walk-and-talk chat revealed

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — For more than two hours at the sold out Golden 1 Center on Saturday night, 38-year-old LeBron James reminded the masses — yet again — that his greatness remains.

Father Time be damned.

His Anthony Davis-less Lakers won a fifth consecutive game, this time 136-134 against the upstart Kings, and it was James’ age-old brilliance (37 points, eight rebounds, seven assists) that made it all possible. Yet by the time James was heading toward a plane bound for Denver, with the Lakers having pulled their way back into the playoff race that seemed to be slipping away when Davis went down with a right foot injury in mid-December, it was his two minutes of candor on the Lakers’ roster management that will likely be remembered even more than his latest remarkable outing. In his most extensive comments yet on the Lakers’ lack of upgrades — and more specifically the reluctance to trade the 2027 and 2029 first-round picks that some team officials believe would be better used to chase another star player this summer — James made it clear that his patience is waning.

“Y’all know what the f— should be happening,” he told The Athletic at the end our brief-but-revealing conversation. “I don’t need to talk.”

But talk he did. And with the Feb. 9 trade deadline nearing, his words will surely be heard inside the Lakers’ walls. The question now is whether or not they’ll make a difference.

The internal debate regarding those picks and how to best use them has been ongoing since last summer. The Lakers spent the days heading into training camp seriously considering whether or not to trade Russell Westbrook and both first-rounders to the Indiana Pacers in exchange for Myles Turner and Buddy Hield. In the end, the choice was made to wait for a deal that made a more significant impact on the Lakers roster both in the present and the future.

What’s more, there was a desire to see what this group could do under first-year coach Darvin Ham before deciding whether a trade of that magnitude was worth the hefty price. As I reported last month, Westbrook’s improved play in his Sixth Man role has made it unlikely that he’ll be dealt. All along the way, there has been a concern that this team simply isn’t good enough to justify trades that would cost the organization its few remaining assets while leaving them well short of title-contender status.

Yet somehow, with key players like Austin Reaves and Lonnie Walker IV also out with injuries at the moment, the Lakers (19-21) now find themselves just 1 ½ games away from a top-six spot and 7 ½ games back from the Western Conference-leading Denver Nuggets. And James, it seems clear, has grown tired of waiting.

The following is a transcription of our entire one-on-one conversation, which we shared in its entirety below in the interest of showing the full scope of how James chose to use his voice during this sensitive point in their season. With travel essentials in hand, James strolled toward the team bus and chatted with The Athletic after his postgame press conference with reporters.

To see you and the team playing this well, especially with AD out, has me wondering what the conversations with (president of basketball operations) Rob (Pelinka) and (owner) Jeanie (Buss) are like these days in terms of the roster. What’s the nature of your message? What is that communication like?

Man listen, I play the game. I worry about who’s in the locker room. I can’t — it’s not my… it’s not my job. I can’t do nobody else’s job.

But LeBron, you’re 38, and you’re doing things that have never been done.

I know that.

And the idea that a team would hold on to some picks and wait for next year…

Well if you guys know, then you guys know. You guys know. I don’t need to talk about it. You guys know.

But if you stay quiet, then time is gonna keep marching on, no?

Listen, you guys know. It’s not rocket science. It’s not rocket science.

But is that conversation (with ownership and management) evolving?

I’m working. I don’t have time. We’re playing every other day, three (out of) four nights. I don’t have time to be…

Right, but we’ve got cell phones. We can call people.

Listen, I’m doing my job. That’s all I can do.

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.

But here’s the thing about James’ decision to be so candid: His message only matters because he’s holding up his end of this deal with the Lakers. And then some.

After signing a two-year, $97.1 million extension last summer that has a player option for the 2024-25 season, James (29.1 points, 8.2 rebounds and 6.7 assists per game) is achieving the kinds of feats that even his younger self couldn’ t reach. Regardless of age, those marks — 29, eight and six — have only been reached nine times in league history, according to Stathead.com (by Oscar Robertson four times, Michael Jordan once, James Harden once, Larry Bird once, Westbrook once and James once last season).

It’s the kind of production that should soften the blow of his remarks, as no one within the Lakers organization should be surprised that James wants to capitalize on these later years in which he continues to play at an all-time level. So many assumed that he’d be relegated to record-chasing during this time, what with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time scoring record of 38,387 points now just 422 points away. But as James discussed during his postgame press conference, and like he said so ominously after a game at Miami on Dec. 28 as well, winning remains his top priority.

“I’ve always, always, had one goal, and that’s to win,” James said. “I’ve always kept my eye on what we can become. I said early on (that) we were young. We were just a young team and we’re just now getting together. We don’t know who we are. We don’t know what our identity is. We had a fresh coaching staff, you know, (where) you’re implementing things at the start of the season. No DS (Dennis Schröder). He didn’t even start the season, breaking his thumb.

“We had injuries here and injuries there, guys in and out, so it took a toll on us. I mean, we still (are) leading the league in most starting lineups — 21 starting lineups so far in less than 40 games, which is insane. But we’re just trying to figure out, trying to play for one another and not give in. We don’t really care what everybody else says about our ball club…We just want to play the game. You play the game the right way, and I think the basketball Gods kind of give back to you… We play hard. We fight. We scrap, and then live with the results and go from there. So we’ve given ourselves a good chance just to be the best team we can be.”

Unless, of course, there are moves to be made that might make them even better.

(Top Photo: Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)


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