Nobody is quite certain of how well LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers are getting along right now. In the midst of a disappointing 2021-22 season, James praised executives of other teams at All-Star weekend. When the season ended, multiple reports claimed that the Lakers internally blamed James for the disastrous acquisition of Russell Westbrook. James is only a year away from free agency and will not be eligible to sign an extension until Aug. 4. At this time, it is unclear whether or not he will take one. James is reportedly pushing the Lakers to acquire former teammate Kyrie Irving. Until they do, things between the two sides appear tense from the outside.
And early on July 4, Lakers owner Jeanie Buss tossed some gasoline onto that fire with a simple tweet. “I miss KB,” Buss tweeted, in reference to team legend Kobe Bryant. “He would understand and explain everything that I’m not allowed to. Honestly he was the greatest Laker ever. He understood team over self. Meaning your rewards would come if you valued team goals over your own then everything would fall into place. All can reply.”
The tweet itself was relatively innocuous. Considering the context of the Lakers’ pursuit of Irving, it looks much more damning. Many read the tweet was a message to James for pushing the Lakers to include future draft picks to land immediate help. But in an interview with Mark Medina of NBA.com, Buss herself claimed that it was just her missing the late Bryant.
“We’re getting ready to start promoting our 10-part docuseries on Hulu and we’re immersed in all things Lakers,” Buss said. “There are so many people I miss. But the person I miss the most is Kobe. We miss his voice, his friendship and everything that was taken away from us when we lost him. What I know is Laker fans feel the same way I do.
So when I feel down like that, I know when I say something, the response that I get makes me feel not alone. That’s how a community comes together to grieve. This grieving process with losing Kobe will go on for the rest of my life. It’s a void that can never be filled and was never expected.
When Phil [Jackson] left to go to the Knicks, the NBA made us sign a letter because we’re on two different teams. He said, ‘This means I can’t help you anymore. But you always have Kobe. Kobe has your back. Talk to him if you ever need advice. You’ll always have Kobe.’ That’s what Phil said to me. So, the idea that we don’t always have Kobe is hard to accept.”
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When asked specifically if the tweet had anything to do with James, Buss denied it. “No. It was that my heart was full of sadness. You look to people surrounding you that feel the same way to commiserate. That’s all it was. It wasn’t intended at anything other than I had sorrow in my heart and I was trying to lighten my load.”
This is, of course, the answer one would expect a team owner to give. Buss and James will work together for at least one more season, and it would make little sense to criticize him publicly. However, when asked about her collaboration with James and his representation at Klutch Sports, she delivered a notable non-answer.
“He’s the highest profile player in the game right now, and he’s on our team. We’re one of the highest profile teams in the league. That’s what people see because he draws so much attention. But I have relationships with all the players and all the agents. It just seems people want to focus on that relationship. He’s the most important voice on our team and our league.”
All is not well in Lakerland right now. Nobody would expect it to be after a lottery season. No matter what Buss or anyone else with the team says, we won’t truly know where the two sides are until we’ve seen whether or not James ultimately signs an extension. Until then, anything anybody involved says will just ring hollow.