LeBron James is keenly aware that his success with the Los Angeles Lakers could come down just as much to his effectiveness as a recruiter off the court as it does to his production on the court.
And he is already planning to fulfill his pitchman duties.
“I’ve always recruited,” James told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols in a sit-down interview that will air Christmas Day at halftime of the Lakers-Golden State Warriors game on ABC. “I’ve been trying to get guys to come play with me since, like, 2007. I’ve got rejected a lot. But I’ve also have not got rejected a lot.”
James started his hunt early to attract marquee players to Los Angeles, telling ESPN last week, in response to a question, it would be “amazing” and “incredible” if the Lakers could somehow acquire five-time All-Star Anthony Davis, who is currently under contract with the New Orleans Pelicans.
The Lakers star has admitted his shortcomings in recruiting stars in the past — James tried to get Ray Allen, Joe Johnson, Michael Redd and Chris Bosh to join him in Cleveland during his first stint with the Cavaliers, to no avail.
“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.”
James’ Lakers will face a Warriors team that came off a record-setting 73-win season in 2015-16 and was able to recruit Kevin Durant to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder and join Golden State, leading the Warriors to back-to-back championships.
James’ recruiting efforts could center on a couple of Warriors players — Durant and Klay Thompson — who will both hit the free-agent market in the summer of 2019.
“It wasn’t hard getting guys in Miami, I’ll tell you that,” James said, reflecting on his success with guys like Mike Miller and Shane Battier when he played for the Heat. “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 are 19-14, good for fourth place in the Western Conference — only three games behind the second-place Warriors.
It would appear James would have an uphill battle in convincing Durant to join forces after Durant’s scathing remarks to Bleacher Report earlier this month describing the “toxic environment” that surrounds James’ teams.
“I was a little pissed off when I first heard it, to be honest,” James said of Durant’s remarks. “I didn’t know where it stemmed from, and I was asked later on that night after our game and I didn’t want to comment because I didn’t see it, I didn’t hear [it]. … I started ‘Uninterrupted’ for a reason, and I know how sound bites can be chopped and diced and things of that nature, so I wanted to get the whole layout of what actually happened.”
James told Nichols that he spoke to the back-to-back NBA Finals MVP to understand the intent of his message.
“Got a phone call from KD,” James said. “He mentioned how he felt and how the story … how he felt the story took a twist. And as a man, I can’t, I don’t hold on to things — too long. I’m too happy in my life right now, and I don’t hold on to anything that will take away from my happiness.”
Of course, James’ happiness has been linked to the pursuit of winning championships for nearly a decade. And the Lakers, while surprising some around the league with their early success this season, still have a ways to go to add a 17th banner to the rafters at Staples Center.
“I’m not satisfied with just being good,” James said. “And I’m not satisfied with just being OK where we are. I’m only satisfied with winning, and that’s what this organization is all about. It’s what it’s always been about through the history of the NBA. The Lakers has always been about winning. Even when they had losing seasons, it’s always been about winning.”