LeBron James on Eastern Conference arms race: “They ain’t gotta go through me”

LeBron James
Feb 7, 2019; Boston, MA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) works the ball against Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving (11) in the first quarter at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Lakers ended up being mostly quiet at the 2019 NBA trade deadline, only making a couple of marginal moves to get more shooting on the roster. While they were the only team in the Anthony Davis sweepstakes, they did not manage to swing a trade for the superstar meaning the roster will remain mostly intact.

Meanwhile, teams around the league made bigger moves to get ready for the stretch run of the regular season. Nowhere was that more evident than at the top of the Eastern Conference. The Raptors traded for Marc Gasol. The Bucks got Nikola Jokic. And the 76ers added Tobias Harris to a loaded starting lineup.

LeBron James, who was at the center of the Lakers’ quest to bring Davis to Los Angeles, spoke to Joe Vardon of the Athletic about those moves and while he was excited about the on-court products, he couldn’t help himself from making the connection to himself:

“Those top teams in the East, yeah, they’re going for it,” James told The Athletic. “Toronto is going for it, Milwaukee’s going for it, Philly. Boston believes they can do it, too. They know they ain’t gotta go through Cleveland anymore.

“Everybody in the East thinks they can get to the Finals because they ain’t gotta go through me.”

As hilarious as that quote reads, LeBron really isn’t wrong. For the first time in eight years, the Eastern Conference is wide open. Teams don’t have to always be in fear of James dragging his teams in the playoffs past their carefully crafted squads.

That’s been the case ever since James left Cleveland in the summer. Toronto immediately made a win-now trade for Kawhi Leonard. Philadelphia accelerated its timeline by trading for Jimmy Butler.

By coming to the Western Conference, LeBron may have actually had a positive effect on the conference imbalance issue. With the biggest star in the league in the West, teams in the East are now much more willing to risk it all to bring stars to their own rosters.

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