James plays down Lakers' hopes despite shorter odds

Three-time NBA champion LeBron James enjoying his interview during the Los Angeles Lakers’ media day at the UCLA Health Training Centre on Monday in El Segundo, California. P
Three-time NBA champion LeBron James enjoying his interview during the Los Angeles Lakers’ media day at the UCLA Health Training Centre on Monday in El Segundo, California. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LOS ANGELES • It has been almost three months since LeBron James signed a free-agent deal to move to Los Angeles and join the Lakers.

But it still seemed odd, even jolting, to see him at the team's training facility on Monday, speaking for the first time as a new member dressed in the Lakers' gold-and-purple uniform affixed with No. 23.

It was media day and also James' official unveiling.

Before a thick assemblage of reporters probing for signs of deep excitement, hoping for new insight, he played the moment straight, declaring that the Lakers have a long way to go before they can dethrone reigning National Basketball Association (NBA) champions the Golden State Warriors.

"They can pick up right where they left off... we're picking up from scratch," the three-time NBA champion said of the Warriors, who have defeated the James-led Cleveland Cavaliers in three of the last four Finals.

"We can only focus on what we can do to get better and, hopefully someday, we can put ourselves in a position where we can compete for a championship as Golden State have done for the last few years."

The capture of 33-year-old James, who has played in eight consecutive Finals, has prompted bookmakers to slash the odds on the Lakers winning another title, installing them as 7-2 favourites behind the Warriors.

The forward left the Cavaliers in July after signing a US$154 million (S$210.4 million) four-year deal which gives new life to the Lakers, a storied team who dominated for periods in the 1980s and 2000s but missed the play-offs in the last five seasons.

He is expected to take on the role of a player-coach on court, but insisted he was also eager to improve his own game by "learning from his new team-mates".

The Lakers kick off their season on Oct 18 with a visit to the Portland Trail Blazers.

Warriors coach Steve Kerr, meanwhile, has said his players will take a pressure-free approach to the new season as they chase a fourth NBA title in what could be their final campaign together.

Golden State could in theory bid farewell to two pillars of their recent success next year, with both Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson entering free agency.

The emphasis this season, Kerr added, would be on celebrating the current players' achievements.

"We're well aware it's not going to last forever," he said. "At some point, you just have to enjoy the moment and enjoy the now."

The Warriors start with a home game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Oct 16.

NYTIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 26, 2018, with the headline 'James plays down Lakers' hopes despite shorter odds'. Print Edition | Subscribe