This story appears in the July 16, 2018 issue of Sports Illustrated. For better storytelling and in-depth analysis, subscribe to the magazine and get up to 94 percent of the insurance price. Click here for more.
Rich Paul headed outside Laker's headquarters last Friday and watched The Godfather in his car waiting to shoot Guardavious Caldwell-Pope to come out of the team's training facility. It was one of the hottest days in Los Angeles history, which pressed 110º, and Paul angry both air conditioning and volume. "I'm on stage where Tom Hagen goes to L.A. to help Johnny Fontane part in the movie," said Paul. "You remember," Fontane was beautifully beautiful hair, expensive costume. But Jack Woltz was the film producer, this older rich guy and he would not throw Fontane because he never forgiven him to trade with one of his actresses. That's why Woltz woke up with the horse head in his bed. "
Paul represents Caldwell-Pope, who signed a contract for a $ 1
"Magic was magic, but he was also Earvin," reminds Paul. "It was not a pitch. It was just a conversation:" Here's who I am. Here's what we do. "Here is the culture we stand for. Here's what we're trying to achieve." Here's what we're looking forward to. ""
Paul was 21 when he met James at Akron-Canton airport before a flight to Atlanta. sold throwback jerseys from the luggage compartment on his car and James starred at nearby St Vincent-St. Mary High. At the terminal, James Warren noticed the moon throwback that Paul wore and asked how he found it. Just like that, Paul stumbled on a client. But as close as Paul has grown to the world's best basketball player since their chance meets, he can not relate to certain levels. He listened to James and Johnson going back and forth and drawing parallels in how they approach their games and lives.
"It was like watching two fish in a tank that speaks a language that the rest of the world can not understand," says Paul. "Magic understands what it's like to be LeBron. He was a 6-point marksman. He was an MVP. But he was also Tragic Johnson. "His trip in the 1984 final against Boston was as difficult as Jamess 2011 against Dallas.
Paul is reluctant to overdo the importance of sit-down because no single exchange delivered James to Los Angeles. To determine a primary motive behind James's third decision maker is difficult. "In 2010 he went to the championship" Paul continues. "In 2014, when he returned to Cleveland, it was about delivering on a promise. In 2018, it was just about doing what he wanted to do. "
James leaned against LA for days and according to them outside of his direct circulation for several months. But Paul rejects the generally explaining the statements that James was either driven to expand his Hollywood empire or spark a surprising super team. hours after their involvement, Lakers reached agreement with guard Lance Stephenson and center JaVale McGee-not exactly Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. No hope of Laker's building immediate contradiction to Warriors was dotted.
During James's last days with the cavalry when he fell to Golden State for the third time in four finals, he repeatedly repeated how important the intellect is at the court. "To win, you have to have talent, but you have to be very cerebral," he says. "Listen, we are all NBA players. Everybody knows how to put the ball in the hole. But who can think of the whole game?" Once he mentioned Rajon Rondo with the name, underlined by the 2008 Celtics collective IQ.
The day after James announced that he would sign a four-year contract, $ 153.3 million LA added Rondo in a year, $ 9 million, and he must hold James in the hand against more fatboards this season. Lakers start point protection, Lonzo Ball, is 20. Vingsna Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma are 20 and 22. McGee and Stephenson are older, but age does not always produce madness that James discovered when 14-year-old veteran guard JR Smith forgot the score in Match 1 in the final , which led to the scrap with Whiteboard.
The acquisitions of Rondo, Stephenson and McGee propose a sea change for LA and James. A year ago, Lakers gave their opportunities a lot of freedom, be careful to ensure that veterans do not threaten confidence or playing time. Now they have installed Rondo as a contest for Ball and Stephenson for the wings, hoping their puppies are squeezed. Coach Luke Walton may have the toughest job in the league. Fourth quarter, tie games, two minutes left, do you go with Ball on the point or Rondo? If it's Ball, how about Rondo? If it's Rondo, how's Ballas daddy?
Stylistically, the Lakers should be about the same. They finished third in line in last season and did not want to slow down, although Jamess squads are usually more intentional, with spot-up shooters scattered around the arc to provide space for his headlong devices. LA. shot 34.5% from three, 29th in the NBA, and the additions of Rondo (33.3% last year) and Stephenson (28.9%) will not help. James will be surrounded by more playmaking and defense than he was in Cleveland, with much less landmanship. "We can have a roster where there are five ball dealers at the court at once," said Rondo. "It's obvious that many teams shoot the three balls, but I think it's nice to believe you will throw out the Golden State. There are other ways to try these guys. We'll try to break that code."  At the moment LA is nowhere near, especially with the center DeMarcus cousins join Warriors as a fifth All Star starter. But Lakers immediate prospects can change with a phone call to San Antonio. James did not go to L.A. because he thought that Leonard, Spurs & # 39; All-Star forward, would follow him. But he certainly assumes that the Lakers, with his young talent, bedazzled front office and inherent recruitment benefits, will eventually find or develop another headliner or two. He has no rush, those who are close to him maintain, but at 33 he also has no years to waste.
"You put some group of players around LeBron James, he has been in the final [eight] straight times. My expectations are exactly the same," Rondo says. "I expect to win." James can appreciate Rondo's guile, McGee's length and Stephen's grit, although he has checked with each of them before. Their presence, like Boogie in the Golden State, can be volatile. Rondo, McGee and Stephenson are all on a one-year contract, part of the cast but not the kernel. At this point, it's hard to even identify the kernel, except James and Johnson. Lakers love Kuzma, stay mad at Ingram and have invested heavily in Ball. But nobody signs James to be a part of
James comes from a standard season-27.5 points, 9.1 assists, 8.6 rebounds and a superlative playoff run. Eight times he scored more than 40 points. Four times he wrote threefold doubles about. Twice he dropped buzzer-beaters. However, when he left Quicken Loans Arena on June 8, the warriors resumed outside his locker room, he looked like a man who had kept pushing his head in the same wall. There is no guarantee that the noise will decrease now when in L.A. He could certainly have improved his odds in Philadelphia or Houston. And if loss is inevitable, as it may be in the golden age, he could at least assure himself of eternal love in Cleveland.
But James, like an aspiring Hollywood producer, thinks great. A juggernaut on South Beach. A hometown of northeastern Ohio. And now, a celebrity marriage in Los Angeles, the association of NBA's signature players and its signature franchise. LeBron and Lakers, a match made in commercial heaven. Together, because all types of A-list pairs could certify, do not force their wattage simply. It multiplies exponentially.
James championship in Cleveland is forever, but the charm of his return is gone, replaced by new expectation in L.A. The basket's largest fish has entered the aquarium.