Upstate Today

Powered by The Journal

Array ( )

Greg Oliver: Christmas came early for Lakers fans

I’ll admit to being a little disappointed when Paul George, long rumored to be joining his hometown Los Angeles Lakers, spurned the opportunity by re-signing with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Greg Oliver has been a staff writer at The Journal since 1994 and has written a weekly sports column since 2004. Write to him at [email protected]

With George’s signing, I became less optimistic LeBron James would be joining the Lakers. It had long been rumored James wouldn’t sign with a team unless he could bring another superstar with him. Things looked especially bleak after George’s decision and the realization that, after James, the free-agent class is thin this year.

However, I was pleasantly surprised when James recently inked his four-year, $154 million deal to play for the Lakers. It was surprising for two reasons — one of which has already been stated, and the second being that most figured James would make his decision way past the July 1 date when free agents and teams could begin making verbal agreements.

For Lakers fans, this is the equivalent of Christmas coming early. After all, the once-proud franchise is coming off five consecutive losing seasons in which it has failed to make the playoffs. Although their young core of talent is impressive, what the Lakers needed was a leader, and someone to teach them how to win. With James, they’ve found that person.

Certainly, James is not without his faults. He can be high maintenance, but there has never been any mistake about James’ desire to win and how he brings that desire to the court each and every game.

Except for his Miami Heat days, James has never been surrounded by top-quality talent. While the Lakers’ talent is young — and raw in some cases — it’s certainly a much more talented squad than the team that surrounded James in Cleveland.

If James can work miracles with Cleveland, just imagine what he’ll do for a Lakers team that went 35-47 last season. A 50-win season in LA is certainly possible and would be the jump start to what James and Lakers boss Magic Johnson envision as a return to championship contention.

After the James signing, the Lakers also inked players such as Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee and Rajon Rondo that made some experts scratch their heads. Multiple NBA insiders said those moves — which ate up cap space and also included renouncing the rights to forward Julius Randle — amounted to reckless spending that didn’t address the team’s need for shooters.

But Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka have made enough moves in their short time together to show they know what they’re doing. The subsequent signings all involve one-year contracts, so if things don’t work out this year, the players added won’t be back next year.

The road to an NBA championship must still go through Golden State, which has won titles in three of the last four years. The Warriors’ free-agent acquisition of DeMarcus Cousins for a price well below his market value when healthy is further proof the Warriors aren’t going away anytime soon.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and so neither will the Lakers. However, after five years of unprecedented futility, James’ signing has provided an infusion of talent and excitement needed to energize the franchise. The NBA is more exciting when the Los Angeles Lakers are relevant, and the addition of James and all the possibilities he brings is proof of that.