EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — LeBron James says he will be hands-off when it comes to the Los Angeles Lakers’ offseason decision-making process in the wake of one of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history.
“That’s not my decision,” James said Monday ahead of the team’s exit interviews. “It’s not my decision to sit here and say, ‘Well, this is what we should bring back and have on the roster.’ That would be the front office’s decision. And obviously they may ask my input, but at the end of the day, they’ll make the decision they feel that best suits this franchise going forward.”
Since James came to the Lakers in the summer of 2018, vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka has referred to James as a “stakeholder,” allowing for greater influence from the star when it comes to personnel decisions than in the typical player -relationship management.
However, after James’ and Anthony Davis’ input led to LA overhauling its roster to trade for Russell Westbrook last summer, only to see the team finish just 33-49 and fail to qualify for even the play-in tournament, there appears to be a shift in strategy.
“I think the front office will do whatever it takes to help this ballclub become a better ballclub from top to bottom,” James said. “Ask me my opinion, I’m going to give my opinion. But at the end of the day, they’re going to make the decision that they feel is best for the franchise.”
Pelinka took ownership for the Westbrook misfire and made a point of separating his role from James’ in putting the team together, despite the collaboration.
“The roster decisions ultimately rest on my shoulders,” Pelinka said Monday. “And I will take input from LeBron and Anthony as our two captains. I have done that during my entire tenure. But at the end of the day, I think I’m the one who leads the basketball operations department and will take ultimate accountability for the roster decisions that are made.”
Pelinka said LA will continue to build around James, with his scoring average of 30.3 points per game this season evidence he has plenty left in the tank.
“LeBron James is a player that’s on the Mount Rushmore of basketball, and every season of his 19 so far has to be looked at as a precious commodity,” Pelinka said. “And we need to do all we can to be caretakers of his legacy and to try to build the best team we can around him. And that’s something that we had the objective for that last year and obviously this roster did not work. But there’s a great level of trust in our collaboration with him to make sure we get it right this summer and fix it.
“We don’t know exactly how long LeBron will play but of course this year he played at the highest level. An incredible year for him offensively and he feels, in my exit meeting with him, highly motivated to return next year and have another elite, elite level of play. … For him to play at that level in the 19th year of his career is pretty jaw-dropping, and his motivation to come back and do that next year is palpable.”
The Lakers officially fired Frank Vogel shortly after James had met with reporters. Before the announcement, James endorsed the coach with whom he teamed to win a championship in 2020.
“I respect Frank as a coach and as a man,” James said. “At the end of the day I don’t know what’s going to happen with Frank and him being here, but I have nothing but respect for him.”
James also supported Westbrook but stopped short of saying he wanted to bring the same core group back to LA next season.
“One thing about Russ that I love and will always love is just his competitive spirit, what he brings to the game every single night,” James said. “And when you’re in a profession where so many injuries happen and so many things go on and to have a guy that’s reliable and can put on a uniform every single night, that’s something that I respect … I’m not going to sit here and make decisions for the front office and things of that nature, but I love being a teammate of Russ.”
After playing in only 56 games because of various injuries, James said he needs to use the offseason to heal. He said an MRI administered Friday on his left ankle sprain that caused him to sit seven of LA’s final eight games revealed that he will not require surgery or any type of injection to aid the recovery process. He will, however, need an additional four to six weeks of rest for his ankle before he can begin his offseason training.
“If we were the team that I hoped and wished we were, I shouldn’t have played in that New Orleans game [April 1] after the injury,” James said of his ankle. “I kind of made it worse. But I wanted to see if we could make a late push.”
Approaching his 20th season and turning 38 in December, James said he remains committed to making a late push in his career to add another championship to his résumé. He pushed back at a characterization that his choice to join the Lakers has been anything but a success.
“I came here to win a championship. And I want to win more. So I accomplished what I wanted to accomplish, but I’m still hungry for more,” James said. “I’m confident that this organization wants the same. That’s what this organization has always been about. … So I’ve done that. We’ve done that. But I want to do it again.”
In February, James called the Lakers “a franchise I see myself being with” in the future, but he has not discussed the two-year, $97.1 million contract extension he will be eligible to sign in August.
“Technically, because of the collective bargaining agreement it cannot even be discussed until later on in the year,” James said. “So, we get to that point, we’ll see.”
Pelinka sounded confident the two sides will come to an agreement when the CBA allows it.
“Every indication that we’ve received is that he sees the Lakers as his home,” Pelinka said. “The feeling is that he loves being a Laker and sees this as a long-term home and that’s been made loud and clear.”
James, who finished second in the league in scoring to Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid (30.6 points per game) but was ineligible for the scoring title because he needed to play at least two more games to qualify, said he had no intention of playing those games after LA was out of the playoff race.
“Once we were eliminated from playoff contention, then there was nothing to talk about, nothing to think about,” James said. “I’m not going to be out there just to be playing meaningless games to try to win the scoring title. That’s so beneath me and where I am in my career. … For me, I’m 19 years in, and going after a scoring title when you’re not making the postseason is the most wackest thing ever.”