Greg Cote

LeBron is accepting a huge challenge by joining Lakers. That's good for him — and NBA

LeBron James watches during the eighth inning of Game 7 of the baseball World Series between the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago Cubs in Cleveland. The four-time NBA MVP announced Sunday night, July 1, 2018, that he has agreed to a four-year, $154 million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers.
LeBron James watches during the eighth inning of Game 7 of the baseball World Series between the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago Cubs in Cleveland. The four-time NBA MVP announced Sunday night, July 1, 2018, that he has agreed to a four-year, $154 million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers.

The strangest, funniest and yet most predictable reaction to LeBron James joining the Los Angeles Lakers is some variation of, "Why on Earth would he go to the West!?"

As if staying in the NBA's softer Eastern Conference would guarantee a continuation of his annual spot in the Finals.

As if his what surrounded him in Cleveland was anything special beyond him.

As if the Celtics and 76ers aren't rising and poised to put the top of the East in contentious play.

As if avoiding Golden State until the Finals is avoiding Golden State at all. (It ain't).

How history will remember LeBron James is a situation just fine. He's a three-time champion (so far) and the player of his generation. If the eternal debate is whether he surpassed Michael Jordan as the G.O.A.T., well, that's a pretty good place to be. But if we insist on a continuing Legacy Watch for LeBron, I propose, not knowing how it might turn out, that his move to L.A. will only enhance his resume and who he is.

He is accepting the challenge of the L.A. market and stage, the Kobe shadow, having Magic as boss, the imperative to recreate Showtime and make a giant franchise big again. All of that.

And he is stepping into the fire by confronting Golden State as head-on as he can, leaving the safe haven of the East for uncharted territory. Good for him.

I love when fans and media scold a a player for what he should have done in a career decision like this one.

Whether LeBron's decision was driven by money, driven by family, driven by rings or driven by life beyond basketball or some combination, all that matter is he's the driver, not us. We all get only one life. Anybody wish to argue LeBron hasn't done a pretty great job with his so far? And athletes get only one prime, one finite window. James, at 33, has earned the right to steer the last of his prime wherever he wishes and shape it his way.

LeBron-to-Lakers is all good for the NBA. It will get even better if James can now coax his good buddy Gregg Popovich to trade disgruntled Kawhi Leonard to L.A., where he wants to go.

LeBron Kobe Retirement Basketball.JPG
Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, right, and Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James hug before the start of an NBA basketball game, in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Lakers have a new superstar — L.A.-Bron. The four-time NBA MVP announced Sunday night, July 1, 2018, that he has agreed to a four-year, $154 million contract with the Lakers. "Welcome to the family (at)KingJames," Bryant said on Twitter . "(hash)lakers4life (hash)striveforgreatness."

LeBron needs at least one elite teammate to make the Warriors pay attention. Meantime any threat to Golden State's dominance is good for the league. And so is the Lakers mattering again, in much the same way the Yankees being good is good for baseball.

The question for now, from a Miami standpoint, is whether James will lure BFF Dwyane Wade from the Heat (again) to join him out West. Understanding the Lakers will need to give up much of its young talent to get Leonard, James needs a surrounding roster that strategically fills needs. Signing Lance Stephenson is an example. D-Wade surely could fit a role.

I expect Wade, a free agent, to likely re-sign with Miami. I would be shocked if he retired, at 36, but the option is certainly out there for him. But the idea he might end up LeBron's teammate again is not far-fetched. I'm sure the thought has crossed his mind as he vacations in Spain with wife Gabrielle Union, an actress whose relocation to Los Angeles would make professional sense.

With or without another Wade reunion, LeBron James has invited the challenge that will help define him. He has entered the West, and prepares now to face the gauntlet.

Be King of the NBA again by dethroning Golden State.

It is all he has left to do.

And it will be fascinating to see if LeBron James can wrap himself in that ultimate triumph, or to see him fail on the biggest stage of his epic career.

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