LeBron James is back to doing what he does best, flexing those roster construction muscles as the league’s greatest shadow GM. According to Shams Charania and Joe Vardon’s report in The Athletic, an effort to recruit Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Jayson Tatum and Draymond Green, is being led by none other than LeGM. One of the great basketball puppet masters is doing it again.
Somewhere right now, LeBron James is creeping in the shadows of some NBA All-Star’s palatial estate, helping himself to the homeowners’ leftovers, waiting for them to get home, so that he can emerge from the darkness to tell them that he’s “assembling a team.”
The Team USA Initiative is LeBron’s Nick Fury moment. Grant Hill is the nominal managing director of Team USA Basketball, but James is Machiavellian, pulling the strings and assembling superstar talent more efficiently than any active player in league history. The journey to The Heatles linking up in Miami actually began in 2006 when James convinced Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to ink shorter three-year extensions, plus a player option, with their respective teams instead of for the four years that had become the norm and which trapped Carmelo Anthony in Denver.
James receives more scorn for the NBA’s “superteam era” than he deserves, but he is always playing chess. Even something as simple as penning a letter in Sports Illustrated announcing his return to Cleveland which mentioned everyone but Andrew Wiggins by name, gives an insight into his forethought. It shouldn’t be a surprise that he’s already making moves for 2024.
But I would be remiss if I yakked about James without looking to the future. When James does retire, Chairman of Team USA’s basketball program is a pristine role that will suit him nicely, prepare him for eventually owning a franchise and give him a valid excuse to transfer. Hill is just a placeholder until James is ready.
For over a decade, Klutch Sports has also served as a phantom arm of James’ basketball interests. Fox, Anthony Davis, and Green are the only Klutch clients being recruited, but the sentiment is the same. In 2019, Davis and Rich Paul shooed away Danny Ainge and made it clear that he desired to play in L.A. There’s an entire decade that was shaped by James’ managerial instincts.
After Team USA’s second-consecutive exit from the FIBA World Cup without medalling, the first time that’s occurred since 1970, the apparatus around James and Team USA Basketball is wasting no time getting all their ducks in a row for the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
Avoiding a repeat of 2004
2024 will also serve as a last hurrah for James. Twenty years ago, he experienced the most ignominious defeat in Olympic history when the U.S. came home with the bronze after losing to Argentina. Nothing will ever compare to the disappointment of that ‘04 Team and the goal for 2024 is to prevent history from repeating itself. The trends have been worrying though. Grant Hill has relaxed the multi-year commitment to an Olympic cycle that Jerry Colangelo implemented.
This isn’t just James’ next great recruiting effort, it’s his last as an active player. James being rumored to play in Paris is somewhat shocking considering he’s already won three Olympic gold medals and will be on the brink of 40.
James is chasing a Hollywood ending and he might earn it on Team USA. However, the “one last job” genre does attract bad kismet sometimes. Things don’t always work according to plan. For one, there’s still the looming possibility France procures the free agent basketball citizen Joel Embiid. The reigning MVP obtained his French and U.S. citizenship last summer and was purportedly weighing representing either nation for international competitions. In a matchup of AD vs. Embiid in an Olympic setting, that gives away their biggest advantage.
This would also be a substantially older team than the Olympic teams of yesteryear. More than half of that roster is in the back half of their prime or watching it in their rearview mirror. Damien Lillard and Steph Curry are shoe-ins, but AD is injury-prone. Kyrie Irving is up for a return, but he’s a loose cannon. Jayson Tatum and Devin Booker have expressed interest, but that isn’t much youth.
The upside is that a potential 2024 squad composed of 11 perennial All-Stars would be the deepest team the U.S. has sent since 2008, and would also be more talented than a 2021 team that turned to the criminally underrated two-way threat Jrue Holiday, Keldon Johnson, Jaale McGee, and Jerami Grant. but the rest of the team’s composition is up in the air. If anyone wants to lobby for a spot, Grant Hill isn’t the one to ask, LeBron James is calling the shots.
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