Lakers owner Jeanie Buss discussed a variety of topics with Sam Amick of The Athletic, including LeBron James signing an extension with the team, how important Russell Westbrook was last season and more. James agreed to extend his deal earlier this month, while Westbrook has been at the center of trade speculation this summer.
“I’ll stay cautiously optimistic, but it is a big vote of confidence when LeBron James signs a two-year extension, when he had many months to do so,” Buss said as part of a much larger quote. “And you know, it was a priority to us. It’s a priority to the Laker brand that he retire a Laker. We’ll probably enjoy watching him as he approaches becoming the all-time leading scorer in history.”
As Amick notes, James had until June 30, 2023 to extend his deal. He’s now under contract through the 2023/24 season and owns a $50.4MM player option for the 2024/25 campaign. He’s coming off an excellent year, averaging 30.3 points, 8.2 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game on 52% shooting.
Buss curiously tabbed Westbrook as the team’s best player last season, later clarifying she should’ve used the word “consistent” instead of “best.” Westbrook played in 78 games — the most of anyone on the team — but his production certainly wasn’t where James’ was.
“All I can say is that, from my point of view, (Westbrook) was our best player last year,” Buss said. “He played pretty much every single game, showed up, worked hard. You know, I would have loved to have seen what this team would have looked like if they stayed healthy.
“It’s really tough to win when Anthony Davis isn’t on the court. LeBron was hurt a lot of the season. But Russ showed up every game and played hard every night. And, you know, I just really appreciate him for who he is and what he brings to the team.”
When it comes to health, Buss has a great point. Westbrook, James and Davis only played in 21 games together last season. The games were also scattered throughout the campaign. Chemistry still matters when forming a big three. In 2010/11, James was part of a core that featured Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami. The team started 9-8, then wound up going 49-16 after that as a result.
While the Lakers certainly had issues related to their supporting cast, defense and three-point shooting (the team shot 34.7%, ranked 22nd in the league), it’s clear that health issues were a major factor in the club’s failure to reach its full potential. In the end, Los Angeles finished with a 33-49 record and missed the playoffs.
“Last season was a huge disappointment,” Buss said as part of her assessment. “I think if you look back, exactly a year ago there was a lot of media who predicted us to be at the top. We certainly didn’t live up to that expectation, and it was hugely disappointing because you can’t possibly contend for a championship if you’re not even in the playoffs.
“So we made some changes. And, you know, I think changes needed to be made. … We have a new coach, and I’m excited to see what he brings and I want to give him all the time and resources that he needs to build a successful program.”