Last week NBA pundits made a huge deal out of the fact that LeBron James hadn’t spoken to Luke Walton before agreeing to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers. Many inferred that meant Walton was on his way out because James was going to pick his own coach and was basically now running the Lakers.
As expected, it now turns out that story was blown way out of proportion.
As ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne has reported, James and Walton texted a ton while the superstar was on vacation in Italy and the two will meet up soon to finally talk in person.
Here’s the logical explanation of this: Magic Johnson met with James about joining the Lakers just after free agency began early Sunday morning. He made a better case for that move than anyone else could have. He’s Magic Johnson. Then the Lakers left James alone and gave him space to make his decision. LeBron left for Europe that same Sunday afternoon, hours after meeting with Magic. In that scenario, there wasn’t a ton of time for Walton and James to talk.
That version of events makes the most sense. The Lakers knew it was going to be a difficult decision for LeBron, so Magic made the case and they let him have a break to decide.
To believe that James would want to bring in his own coach simply because he and Walton didn’t talk before he made the decision was a ridiculous premise. It’s not like James doesn’t know Walton or has never crossed paths with him. Walton and LeBron were in the same draft class back in 2003, and Luke played in the NBA for a decade. He won two titles with the Lakers. The chances that they don’t know each other at all are incredibly slim.
Furthermore, the idea that Walton is disposable for the Lakers is just as ridiculous. If you talk to people around the league, many believe he’s the NBA’s next great coach. He played with Kobe Bryant for years, learned under Lute Olson at Arizona, then was mentored by Phil Jackson and Steve Kerr. Oh, and his dad is an NBA Hall of Famer who was life-long friends with a guy named John Wooden. I’m fairly certainly Walton knows basketball as well as anyone on the planet.
This was yet another example of how the media has assumed things about LeBron and the Lakers that have been flat-out false:
“LeBron needs a star on the Lakers before he joins the team!” Nope.
“He wants to play with his friends and will demand his new team loads up on his buddies!” Wrong.
“He doesn’t want to play with young guys!” Shrug emoji.
“If James goes to Los Angeles, Lonzo Ball is gone, he won’t want to play with him!” Incorrect.
“LeBron doesn’t want Walton to be his coach.” Um, nope.
So maybe, just maybe LeBron James joined the Lakers because he likes what they’ve built already, and the fact that they have a ton of roster flexibility. Being in LA appeals to him and he’s ready to transition to a new style of basketball that will suit him as he gets older. Surrounding himself with young talent might also help him age more gracefully on the court.
Maybe there isn’t some grand Machiavellian move coming and he just likes this team. I know that’s not as fun or dramatic, but it has always been the most reasonable explanation.