You just knew he was going to say it.
And, sure enough, in a most demanding way at the most difficult of times, he said it.
While lugging around a pile of disappointment for a second consecutive season, LeBron James is claiming his arms are tired.
After realizing that the final fruitful years of his career could be spent mired in mediocrity, LeBron James is claiming his mind is wandering.
On Wednesday night in a postgame news conference in Miami, two days before his birthday, James carefully lined up 38 candles, pointed them in the direction of Jeanie Buss and Rob Pelinka, and blew.
“I don’t want to finish my career playing at this level from a team aspect,” James said.
The Lakers had just lost for the 21st time in 35 games.
“Playing basketball at this level just to be playing basketball is not in my DNA,” he said.
The Lakers are again spiraling toward the bottom of the standings and seem destined to miss the playoffs for the second consecutive year and third time in James’ five seasons with the team.
“I know what I can still bring to any ball club with the right pieces,” James said.
The Lakers have James under a guaranteed contract for at least two more seasons, and he’s not guaranteeing he’ll stay interested for that long.
“I’m a winner and I want to win … so we’ll see what happens and see how fresh my mind stays over the next couple of years,” James said.
There are many times that comments from the infinitely passive-aggressive James are open for interpretation, but this is not one of them.
This is aggressive-aggressive.
This is a direct threat to Lakers management that they immediately need to make the impossible trades that would make this team improbably competitive … or else.
Or else, it seems, arguably the greatest player ever will ask to be traded.
James wasn’t specific on that point, but it seemed pretty obvious he doesn’t want to stick around for another rebuild and might welcome a chance to finish his career with a championship contender once the Lakers are allowed to trade him after this season.
His message is clear: Get me help or get me out of here.
The response from Lakers management should be just as clear: See ya.
For once, Lakers management should tell one of their superstars, “No,” and actually do what is best for the Lakers.
What is best for the Lakers, right now, is nothing. With Anthony Davis having disappeared into street clothes again for at least a month, the Lakers’ season is pretty much cooked, burned beyond any hope that trading Russell Westbrook and valuable first-round draft picks will make them whole again.
Sit tight for the rest of this miserable season. Then, this summer, begin a rebuilding process that will start with the expiration of Westbrook’s contract and pick up real momentum with the official response to James’ complaints.
Yeah, trade him.
It’s not a new thought. The suggestion has been written in this space numerous times. But his comments have changed the narrative.
It has long been believed the Lakers wouldn’t have the brashness to make such a deal. But now he’s given them a reason. They’re not dumping a legend, they’re simply abiding by his request, which changes the scenario completely.
Seriously, how much longer can they believe that James is still capable of leading a young core into the playoffs? When are they finally going to admit that James is a wasted talent without contributions from Davis, and when are they going to realize Davis might never be a consistent star again?
Continuing to build a team around James with the expectation that he is still capable of carrying a team of role players to a title is the definition of insanity.
After the Christmas loss to Dallas, James basically said as much himself.
“How many times are you going to try to dig yourselves out until it’s too much dirt on you?” he told reporters.
Don’t forget, this slow and morose burial is at least partially the fault of James.
He threw down a giant shovel full of soil when he strongly advocated for acquiring Westbrook, which cost the Lakers two championship players and delivered a nightmare.
He also failed to help dig them out last summer when he signed his two-year, $97.1-million extension shortly after financial publications formally crowned him a billionaire.
Hmmm, think James could have taken less money to give the Lakers more salary cap flexibility? Who does that? Well, Tom Brady did that, repeatedly, forsaking as much as $100 million to help the Patriots build those six Super Bowl championships in New England.
James brought this city a championship, but he’s never really connected to the Lakers organization or its fans. He’s here to win for him, not the Lakers, and the fact that he would cause such a major distraction Wednesday during such a tenuous time in this season’s evolution shows his priorities.
He wants to break Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s scoring record, and he’ll do that in a couple of months, and it will be cool … but that will be that.
His star turn here will be done. His future here is troublesome. His impact on a championship is negligible.
The irony of James’ comments is that there is only one way the Lakers can rebuild to a level that would be to his competitive liking.
Rebuild without him.
Happy birthday and see ya.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.