July 2, 2018 / 9:07 PM / 4 months ago

LeBron in it for the long haul with Lakers

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - LeBron James’s eye-watering $154 million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers is perhaps most surprising because of its length - a four-year deal that indicates King James will be in L.A. for the long haul as he tries to revive the struggling franchise.

FILE PHOTO: Former Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James reacts during the third quarter. Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The bombshell announcement, made by his agent Rich Paul’s Klutch Sports Group on Sunday, marks a seismic shift in the basketball landscape, instantly returning the Lakers to relevance after missing the playoffs the last five seasons.

The deal for the three-times NBA champion gives the Lakers a stability that his former team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, did not enjoy in recent years as James opted for shorter-term contacts when he returned to the Cavs in 2014 after four seasons in Miami.

The Lakers deal, which reportedly includes a player option for the fourth year, will give the young team the ability to grow gradually as the storied franchise attempts to assemble a squad to challenge the dominant Golden State Warriors.

The Warriors have defeated James’s Cavs in three of the last four NBA Finals including a 4-0 sweep last month.

The contact also suggests James does not necessarily expect Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson to land him another big star immediately, something many believed the team had to do to lure the league’s best all-around player to the west coast.

“The Lakers had felt a sense of urgency this week to find a co-star (for) LeBron,” either the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Paul George or the San Antonio Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard, ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne said in a tweet on Sunday.

“However, when Magic spoke to James late Saturday, he assured them this was a long term play and his decision wouldn’t be affected by a transaction they could make under a time pressure.”

Before Sunday’s announcement regarding James, George had agreed to a multi-year contract with the Thunder and the likelihood of the Lakers landing Leonard in a trade from the Spurs appeared to be dwindling.

VETERAN REINFORCEMENTS

James, 33, will not be the only veteran on the young team next season, however.

Hours after the news of James’ contract broke, the Lakers announced they had signed small forward and shooting guard Lance Stephenson and twice NBA champion Javale McGee to one-year deals.

The team also indicated it would bring back guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who had the best-shooting season of his career with the Lakers last season, to go with the young core that includes 20-year-old Lonzo Ball, 22-year-old Kyle Kuzma and 23-year-Josh Hart.

“Y’all really thought he was gonna pass up the greatest city in the world... #TheKingIsHere,” point guard Ball tweeted after the news broke.

TINSELTOWN CALLING

Another reason for James’s willingness to sign a long-term deal with the Lakers is the team’s proximity to Hollywood.

James is the co-founder of Los Angeles-based production company SpringHill Entertainment, which has developed more than a dozen TV series and films including Starz drama “Survivor’s Remorse” and NBC game show “The Wall”.

Upcoming projects include an HBO documentary about boxer Muhammad Ali and feature film “House Party.”

James also played a supporting role on-screen in 2015 Amy Schumer comedy “Trainwreck.”

While LeBron is looking to sell tickets to his film projects, he has already given a big boost to interest in Lakers tickets for next season.

Ticket seller StubHub on Tuesday said visits to the Lakers ticket page were up 7,398 percent over the same date last year even though next season’s schedule has yet to be announced.

“Only a handful of athletes in the world can have an effect on ticket demand like LeBron James can,” StubHub GM Scott Jablonski told Reuters.

“It’s still early, but trends are already showing that this upcoming Lakers season with James is going to be one of the hottest sports tickets.”

Additional reporting by Lisa Richwine in Los Angeles, editing by Ed Osmond

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