Lakers News: Latest on Jeanie Buss' Pursuit of LeBron James, Lonzo Ball

Maurice Bobb@@ReeseReportFeatured ColumnistOctober 12, 2018

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - OCTOBER 10:  LeBron James #23 and Lance Stephenson #6 of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrate after James made a shot against the Golden State Warriors and was fouled during their preseason game at T-Mobile Arena on October 10, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Lakers defeated the Warriors 123-113. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The LeBron James show has begun in the land of the Los Angeles Lakers, but it might not have happened if it weren't for Kobe Bryant. 

In an in-depth interview with The Athletic's Sam Amick, Jeanie Buss revealed that the Lakers legend urged her to clean house to make the organization more appealing to the King of Akron.

That meant firing former general manager Mitch Kupchak and, most importantly, her own brother Jim, who many felt had driven the organization down a path of dysfunction.

"Cut it all out at once," Bryant told her during a lunch meeting in February of 2017 at a poolside bungalow near his home in Newport Beach. "I know it's hard to do, but if you want to turn this ship around, and turn it around sooner rather than later, then you've got to make those hard decisions."

Bryant referenced Daenerys Targaryen, the heroine and queen of HBO's Game of Thrones, in an attempt to convince Buss of what she should do. The character, who is the mother of three dragons, famously took part in her own brother's demise in her ascent to power.

He then outlined what else she would have to do if she wanted the best player in the NBA to choose the Purple and Gold:

"Jeanie, I know who we're trying to get; we know who we're trying to get. So that player is not going to come here with all of this s--t going on. It's not going to happen. So if you do want to have that focus, and go after that player, then I'm telling you that you've gotta clean house, and you've gotta just reshuffle the deck and start anew. You have the new practice facility (the UCLA Health Training Center) that we're just moving into (in the summer of 2017). We've got new management, and off we go. But that player is not coming here unless you do that.

"As a player, it's like, listen, it's a cultural thing. You've got to have the right culture around, especially for him at this stage of his career. You don't want to come to a team and deal with a bunch of bulls--t, right? You don't want to come here and be part of an organization where the walls are talking and stuff is getting out left and right and you have this camp and that camp. You don't want to do that. So I said, 'You've got to start anew.'"

After their poolside conversation, Buss jettisoned Jim and Kupchak and brought in former high-powered sports agent Rob Pelinka and the Lakers legend, Magic Johnson.

The team then hired former Golden State Warriors assistant coach Luke Walton—a young coaching wunderkind—and set the stage for a new culture.

Johnson made some shrewd front-office moves, including making suitable cap space for signing big free agents and drafting a cadre of young talent.

Under the direction of Buss, the Lakers made a complete 180 from their previous toxic environment, setting the stage for James, who committed to the team's new direction by signing a four-year, $154 million contract.

It was then that Buss got a special text from Bryant. It was a Game of Thrones meme, an inside joke referring to their conversation and confirmation of her "mother of dragons" spirit.

"Be decisive, and be quick, and go all in or don't do it at all, because you'll sabotage yourself before you even get to start," Buss recalled Bryant telling her. "It was good advice. He's really smart."

Buss added: "You know, LeBron choosing to come here validates everything that we've been doing. I think when Magic came in, you could see all the moves that he made, he and Rob Pelinka, changing the roster, building it around a style of play, a type of player, the kind of athleticism, you could see what Laker basketball was becoming as they built. I would really like to be in the playoffs again; that really is our goal to be in the playoffs. To attract the best player in the game is really impressive. But until we make the city proud, we're not going to stop."

       

Lakers Fans Treated to First Look at LeBron, Lonzo 

EL SEGUNDO, CA - SEPTEMBER 24: Lonzo Ball #2 and LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers are seen posing for a portrait during media day at UCLA Health Training Center on September 24, 2018 in El Segundo, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknow
Adam Pantozzi/Getty Images

The signing of LeBron James was the biggest news on the NBA landscape this summer, but after the confetti settled, there were concerns about chemistry.

The main question revolved around Lonzo Ball and whether he could play alongside James, who many view as just as great a passer as the former No. 3 pick.

The suspense was heightened a bit due to Ball's injury and timetable for return and James' intermittent play during the preseason.

But those doubts were put to rest during Wednesday's 123-113 preseason win over the Golden State Warriors in Las Vegas.

Ball did not start, but when he stepped on the court, James connected with him by throwing an alley-oop off a backscreen worthy of a highlight reel.

"When you got an athletic point guard like that, it's my job to put it up there for him to go get it," James told reporters, per USA Today's Scott Gleeson. "I think we've all seen (Ball's athleticism) since he was in high school, I believe."

The play, which brought the Las Vegas crowd to its feet, was all the more remarkable because Ball has yet to play alongside James during practice.

Luckily, the dunk off the lob was a familiar play for the second year point guard.

"That's my first time being on his team," Ball said. "But that's my play. We run that all the time and he put it up there for me."

Ball, who underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee this offseason, finished with seven points, four rebounds and four steals.

"When you play with LeBron, you got to keep playing, because he's easy to watch, as much stuff as he does," Ball said. "He had a monster first half. Best player in the world, that is what he does."

       

Lakers Game Against the Warriors Most Watched Game

LAS VEGAS, NV- OCTOBER 10:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors and LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers share a moment during a pre-season game on October 10, 2018 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly ackno
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

It's only the preseason, but fans are already excited about LeBron James and the Lakers.

James' first game against the Golden State Warriors drew an unprecedented 1.98 million viewers on ESPN, making it the most-watched preseason game ever.

A spokesman for the network told the Associated Press the nearly two million fans who watched were the most to tune in for an NBA preseason contest since 1994, when such numbers were kept.

The interest in the game was likely based on James' previous history with the Warriors, who he's played in four straight NBA Finals, losing three and winning one.

The Warriors are the defending champs that James & Co. hopes to dethrone, if not this year, then in the near future.

The Lakers showed lots of promise in the game, winning 123-113 behind the play of Brandon Ingram, who finished with 26 points, and James, who paced the team with 15 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.

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