Some NBA front office executives have reportedly been up in arms in recent weeks over what they perceived as tampering by LeBron James. They accused the four-time league MVP of trying to lure New Orleans Pelicans star Anthony Davis to Los Angeles when James said it would be “amazing” and “incredible” to play with Davis in Los Angeles.
The NBA absolved James of wrongdoing, with a league spokesman saying, “it is not tampering when a player makes a comment about his interest in playing with another team’s player.”
And James says he’s recruited potential teammates – within the NBA’s rules – for more than a decade. In an interview with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols that aired this week, James said, “I’ve always recruited.”
“I’ve been trying to get guys to come play with me since, like, 2007,” he said. “I’ve got rejected a lot. But I’ve also [not] got rejected a lot.”
That dates back to his first stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers, when James reportedly lamented to the team’s front office season after season that he needed a better second scorer than Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Mo Williams. He made overtures to Joe Johnson, Michael Redd and Chris Bosh about the Cavaliers, but all three turned him down.
“A lot of people didn’t want to come to Cleveland, let me just throw that out there,” James told Nichols. “I tried to recruit so many guys to come to Cleveland, and we actually had – I had – a couple guys, and it just didn’t work out.”
But when James arrived in Miami in 2010, Bosh and Dwyane Wade joined him. Years later, he convinced Shane Battier and Ray Allen, crucial pieces in Miami’s NBA title runs, to sign on with the Heat, as well.
“It wasn’t hard getting guys in Miami, I’ll tell you that,” he said. “So now that I think being in L.A., I don’t think it would be that hard to get guys here.
“But we got to win, and at the end of the day, it’s all about winning. You know, and that’s what I’m trying to do right now, is to show prospects and free agents – and at the same time, show these guys that I got right now – that we can win now, and let’s not worry about the future.”
The Lakers’ roster is loaded with a bunch of young, inexpensive prospects. Even with their talented core of James, Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram, the Lakers are set up to land a pair of premium free agents in the next two offseasons. In the summer of 2019, Klay Thompson and DeMarcus Cousins will be free of their contracts from Golden State. So will Kemba Walker of Charlotte and DeAndre Jordan of Dallas. Golden State’s Kevin Durant and Toronto’s Kawhi Leonard are also expected to be free agents this summer, and more stars will be available in 2020.
Part of the reason James has struggled to recruit talent around him could be his style of play, in which he controls the ball and pace of the game. Durant also recently called the media circus around James “toxic.”
“LeBron is a player that needs to play with guys that already know how they play the game – and shooters,” Durant told Bleacher Report earlier in December. “Like, young players that are still developing, it’s always going to be hard because he demands the ball so much, he demands control of the offense and he creates for everybody.”
But James in recent weeks has shrugged off both those remarks and the suggestion that there’s something wrong with the way he courts prospective teammates.
“It is not rocket science. These are great players,” he said Saturday. “Absolutely, I would want to play with a lot of great players, that is just who I am. So? People get caught up in bunches. Sometimes they wish they could control what you say and they can’t control me. At all. And I play by the rules.”