LeBron James helped pick them all — the veterans, the stars and the up-and-comers who put on their new golden Lakers jerseys for the first time Tuesday.
It’s his team, his vision for winning, his plan taking action. If it works, it’ll be his success. If it fails, it’ll be his letdown.
So, he’s got a plan for how he’s going to make it work with Russell Westbrook, Anthony Davis, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard and the rest of his teammates.
“I always figure it out,” James said nonchalantly during media day in El Segundo.
He’s been one of basketball’s safest bets, with four league championships and appearances in nine of the last 11 NBA Finals. He’s done it with supporting stars from Dwyane Wade to Kyrie Irving, from Chris Bosh to Kevin Love. He did it with Davis. And now, he’ll try to add Westbrook and Anthony to the Lakers’ equation.
“He can do it all. … And he’s willing to do it all,” coach Frank Vogel said. “… All these other stars that he’s played with, he’s adapted his game, done whatever’s necessary to win and put himself in position for the ultimate goal. The willingness to do it is one thing, but when you have his skill set and his mind, he literally can do it all.
“So I’m very confident that that’s going to work itself out.”
Internally, there have been conversations about how that’s going to look. James’ on-court relationship with Davis is much clearer — a ball-dominant player with top-notch vision playing with an incredibly gifted all-around finisher. With Westbrook, there’s redundancy. He and James do everything, the two active leaders in triple-doubles with 283 combined. Questions about whether there’s enough air space for the two to operate at the same time is a real concern, no matter what anyone said Tuesday.
“As far as Russ, we need Russ to be Russ. We don’t need Russ to change for anybody,” James said. “That’s why we got him. And it’s our job to help him feel comfortable in our system. And he’s going to be as dynamic as he’s always been.”
Westbrook is a graduate of multiple on-court partnerships with other stars. He went to the NBA Finals with Kevin Durant and James Harden in 2012 with Oklahoma City. He tried again with Harden in Houston. And he and Bradley Beal never fully got on track with Washington during last season’s COVID-19-shortened season.
There’s nothing to do now, Westbrook said, that could help make sure he fits in with the Lakers.
“I don’t pay much mind to it, to be honest. Because the game will always tell you kind of what to do,” Westbrook said. “I always believe, throughout the season, there will be ups and downs. There may be times where it looks like it may not work. There may be times where it’s clicking on all cylinders. And as a team, you have to understand that, and I understand that.”
James said the same, knowing that the pairing between the two would need time to flourish.
“I don’t think it’s going to be like peanut butter and jelly to start the season, but that’s all part of the process and all part of my work. That’s all part of it,” James said. “I like to actually put in the work to get it how great it can be.”
The way James has embraced playing with other greats separates him from the rest of the legendary NBA wings, an adaptability that no one in his class ever needed to showcase.
“I’ve seen it throughout my whole career as long as I’ve known him. He’s been able to put the pieces [around him] that he really needs for him to be at his best,” Anthony said. “ And you look at his teams over the years, all the teams were a lot different. Every year called for a different type of LeBron. We don’t know what LeBron we’re going to get this year. I think that’s the exciting part of it.”
It’s not the only on-court issue the Lakers need to resolve after they eased their potential off-court burdens by pushing toward 100% vaccination by opening night. They’ve got to land on a starting five, figure out how to handle a crowded rotation and deal with the departures of some of their best perimeter defenders.
Yet everything begins and ends with the Lakers’ stars and how they work together.
“I’m not worried about that,” James said.
It all begins Wednesday when training camp opens, the Lakers more rested than last season, more offensively talented and already off to a head start.
Westbrook, James said, has been practically tied to his hip. The team made the most of a weekend in Las Vegas. And the plan? They know they’ve got a good one.
“He has the blueprint,” Rajon Rondo added.
And because James is with them, so do the Lakers.