LeBron James is taking his talents to the Los Angeles Lakers and the Western Conference.
James’ agreement with the Lakers was announced through a simple news release sent by his agent, Rich Paul. It said James, a 14-time All-Star, three-time Finals MVP and two-time Olympic gold medalist, was joining the Lakers and had agreed to a four-year, $154-million contract.
“Thank you Northeast Ohio for an incredible 4 seasons,” James said in a message on his Instagram account. “This will always be home.”
It marks the third time in his 15 years that James has elected to change teams through free agency, and the second time he has left Cleveland, his hometown team. James, who was drafted by Cleveland in 2003, left for the Miami Heat in 2010. Four years later, after winning two NBA titles with the Heat, he returned to Cleveland and won a title there in 2016.
James, 33, is coming off one of his finest seasons as a professional. He played all 82 games for the first time and averaged 27.5 points (his most since 2009-10), tied a career high with 8.6 rebounds per game, set a career high with 9.1 assists per game and shot 54.2 percent from the field.
He followed that up by single-handedly carrying a very mediocre team to the NBA Finals, averaging 34.0 points, 9.1 rebounds and 9.0 assists and shooting 53.9 percent.
James joins an impressive list of legends to have worn a Lakers uniform. Six of the top eight career scorers in the NBA have played for Los Angeles. The others are Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant, Wilt Chamberlain and Shaquille O’Neal.
The Lakers missed the playoffs for a franchise-record fifth straight season. They also failed in an attempt to sign All-Star free agent Paul George away from Oklahoma City and still have not convinced San Antonio to trade Kawhi Leonard.
Sunday was the first official day of free agency. James spoke with Cleveland early in the day and reportedly met with the Philadelphia 76ers in Los Angeles. He ultimately chose L.A., where he and his wife maintain their summer home, and announced his decision on the first day of free agency.
James was born and grew up in Akron, outside of Cleveland. There had been several reports that he was not happy with Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert. As of late Sunday night, the Cavaliers had not released a statement regarding their star’s departure.
The game’s biggest star will now lead a young Lakers team — run by Lakers Hall of Famer Magic Johnson — that has been overmatched in recent years while rebuilding. The Lakers instantly will rise with James, a three-time champion who after being swept by the Warriors in this year’s NBA Finals said he is still driven and very much in “championship mode.”
The Lakers’ legacy is something that appealed to James, and it wasn’t long after his announcement that he heard from Kobe Bryant, who won five titles during 20 seasons with Los Angeles.
“Welcome to the family (at)KingJames,” Bryant said on Twitter. “#lakers4life #striveforgreatness.”
Los Angeles will give James a larger platform for his business interests and social activism. He already owns two homes in Southern California and has a film production company.
This is the third time in eight years that James has changed teams. After leaving Cleveland and joining Miami in 2010, he returned in an emotional homecoming four years later, determined to make the Cavaliers champions.
James previously said he wanted to finish his career in Ohio, and although he’s leaving again, Cavs fans are more forgiving after he ended the city’s 52-year sport title drought in 2016.
Shortly after the announcement, which came in a surprising manner, James posted a three-photo tribute to Cleveland fans on his Instagram account. “Thank you Northeast Ohio for an incredible four seasons,” he wrote. “This will always be home.”
But there will always be a portion of Cleveland fans disappointed that James left again and that he wouldn’t give the Cavs a longer commitment.
His deal with the Lakers is his longest since he signed for six years with Miami in 2010. James informed the Cavs on Friday that he would not exercise his $35.6-million option and would become a free agent.
While in Los Angeles after a family vacation, he spoke to Cavs general manager Koby Altman moments after free agency opened. It appears that was more a courtesy than a chance for Cleveland to make one last pitch.
The decision to join the Lakers was not a surprise to his innermost circle, with one person telling AP that it had been presumed for some time that he was headed to Los Angeles next season.
James gave Cleveland something to remember in his final season as the Cavaliers reached the NBA Finals. His stay with the Cavs will best be remembered for 2016, when he rallied the Cavs from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals to stun the Warriors. James helped seal a Game 7 win with a chase-down block of Andre Iguodala, the signature moment of a career that has shown no signs of decay.
With the Lakers, James will be playing in the Western Conference for the first time and just down the Pacific Coast Highway from the Warriors, the team that has stymied him three times in the past four finals. With AP