For James, though, Monday’s scheduled introduction to the local news media will formally thrust him into an unusual position. You have to go all the way back to the 2004-5 season, his second N.B.A. campaign, for the last time he started a season with a team more likely to miss the playoffs entirely than win the championship.
So it’s still hard for some of us to buy into the idea that King James, who turns 34 in December, willingly took himself out of the league’s title mix — even just for one season of rebuilding — by choosing the Lakers. For all of his family’s (and his own) fondness for Tinseltown, as well as the obvious appeal of working alongside a team president in Magic Johnson who can surely understand him better than any other, it figures to be a long and testing wait for James until the Lakers can build a title-worthy supporting cast around him — most likely July 2019 at the earliest.
In the interim? James can’t possibly be as O.K. with his Year 1 hand as he seemed to be in a recent interview with beIN Sport, in which he listed five teams not named the Lakers as the most legitimate contenders in pursuit of Golden State: Houston, Oklahoma City, Boston, Philadelphia and Toronto.
“I’m not one that thinks being in the West is such a disadvantage,” said Dahntay Jones, who played alongside James in Cleveland during their playoff runs in 2016 and 2017 before moving into television. “The West is actually easier on your mind-set and your body, your morale. It’s warm. Practicing every day in L.A., it just puts you in a better mood. I think that’s going to make a big difference for him.”
The former Nets stalwart Richard Jefferson is another James teammate of recent vintage who isn’t predicting a grim grind over the next six months. Jefferson strongly disputes the notion that the inevitable growing pains of a squad filled with youth (most notably Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Lonzo Ball) and, shall we say, unpredictable veterans (JaVale McGee, Michael Beasley, Rajon Rondo and Stephenson) will torment the famously demanding James.
“When he went back to Cleveland, I promise you he didn’t go there thinking, ‘O.K., it’s time to go to four straight N.B.A. finals,’” Jefferson said of James’s return to the Cavaliers in 2014. “But would anyone really be surprised if the Lakers made the conference finals? He’s that good. Any time LeBron steps on the court, he’s the best player on the court. There’s a bigger gap than I think many people would really believe.”
The wait for firm answers is mercifully fading. The Lakers play the Denver Nuggets in an exhibition game in San Diego on Sept. 30 — and Tanter will be in the building because the Lakers like to take their entire game-operations show on the road as often as possible in the preseason.