'The MVP over there is Sam Presti': Was LeBron James sending a message to Rob Pelinka?

·4 min read
Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James prepares to shoot during a practice session for the NBA All-Star basketball game in Cleveland, Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Lakers forward LeBron James, who prepares for All-Star game practice Saturday, has scored 25 points or more in 23 consecutive games. (Charles Krupa / Associated Press)

LeBron James admitted to being mentally and physically drained at times this season before going out of his way Saturday to praise Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti.

The compliments came after his team’s All-Star game practice when James was asked about Thunder rookie Josh Giddey, who recently became the youngest player in league history to record a triple-double.

After saying that Giddey’s a really good player with great vision who is playing “beautiful basketball,” James quickly pivoted to the Thunder’s front office.

“But the MVP over there is Sam Presti. He’s the MVP,” James said. “I mean, Josh Giddey is great. But Sam Presti, I don’t understand this guy’s eye for talent. He drafted KD [Kevin Durant], Russ [Russell Westbrook], Jeff Green, Serge Ibaka, Reggie Jackson, Josh Giddey and the list goes on and on and on.

“This guy is pretty damn good.”

James' comments came after it was indicated in the locker room that there was a desire for the Lakers to be active at the trade deadline, according to people with knowledge of the situation who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the subject. Although the team was unable to make any trades, the Lakers have played with a better energy, James said.

Speaking after the deadline, Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka said there was agreement within the organization about standing pat.

“I’ve been very collaborative with LeBron and Anthony [Davis] our captains in terms of shaping our roster and moves that make sense. And that continued with this trade deadline,” Pelinka said. “And you can’t force another team to present yourself with a deal that is going to make your team be better. That’s up to them. And throughout this process we had different things we looked at and like I’ve done in the past had conversations with LeBron and Anthony about it and I would say there’s alignment here. And that’s all that matters.”

James’ comments Saturday, coupled with a tweet earlier in the week praising the Los Angeles Rams for their aggressive trading strategy, call that alignment into question.

While retweeting a photo of Rams general manager Les Snead wearing a shirt with his own face and the words “F— them picks,” James wrote, “LEGEND! My type of guy!!”

The Lakers' offseason moves since winning the NBA title in 2020 have largely not panned out, with the team strapped for trade assets and barren of first-round draft picks until 2027 while currently languishing in ninth place in the West. Pelinka has been open about his roster-building methods, which include deferring to his players. Those with knowledge of the situation said James, Davis and former Laker Jared Dudley played a large role in building the current team.

With the team currently out of the top six spots, which qualify for the first round of the playoff, they’d need to win twice in the postseason play-in tournament to qualify for the playoffs.

“Every season has its own mental and physical challenges. And this is no different. This is the most strange season I've been a part of so far,” James said. “… We've had a little bit of everything. I've been out at points in time of the season. It's just been very challenging, physically and emotionally draining at times. But that's the NBA season for you. If you're not having your mind set on that happening, then you're setting yourself up for failure.”

James, 37, has been sensational on the court. He’s scored at least 25 points in 23 consecutive games — the longest such streak in his career.

“I’m just in a groove, I guess,” James said. “I work on my game, I work on my craft.… I’m just always trying to see ways I can continue to stay in great rhythm and see ways I can continue to get better, even at my age. I’m just not a guy that’s satisfied.

“But I can’t really explain the groove I’m in right now offensively. I guess I’m just playing some good basketball, man.”

James said he hopes his play can make the Lakers a dangerous team, should they make it into the play-in tournament or the playoffs. While opposing executives and coaches have loudly wondered about a potential shutdown to deal with a bothersome knee — James recently said he didn’t think it would be healed until the offseason — he sounded like a player committed to pushing for postseason on Saturday.

“Yeah, that’s part of the motivation at this point,” James said. “I know it’s been a hellstorm of a season for us so far but if I can get our group in the games, all we can ask for is a chance.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.