When Derrick Rose was with Cleveland for a short time last season, he watched LeBron James on and off the court, trying to absorb some of James’ tricks of the trade.
“I watched — not to sound like a stalker — but damn near everything he did when he was around,” Rose said.
Rose said he adopted some of James’ habits into his own workout routines, but didn’t want to make it seem as if he was “hovering around him or in his personal space.”
“I kept a close eye on him from afar,” Rose said.
That’s what the Wolves and fans at Target Center will get to do Monday night when James comes to town for the first time wearing a Lakers uniform after leaving Cleveland for a second time to sign with Los Angeles in the offseason.
“It won’t be weird,” Rose said. “You look at all the legends and guys who played for the Lakers with that Lakers uniform on, he fits right in with the generations’ best.”
James will be leading a team that has some promising young players in Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma and such veterans as Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson and JaVale McGee — presumably signed to one-year deals so the Lakers can make a splash in free agency next offseason. The Lakers and Wolves are off to identical 2-4 starts. Coach Tom Thibodeau said there is bound to be an adjustment period for James, but eventually he will make it work. The Lakers have the eighth-best offensive rating and 23rd-best defensive rating.
“Anyone for that matter, when you change teams, there’s going to be a curve,” Thibodeau said. “But his greatness, everywhere he’s gone, he’s not only been great himself but he’s been able to bring the best out of everyone around him, which is really the true mark of greatness.”
And James’ move means one of basketball’s most historic franchises is relevant after spending a few years in the basketball wilderness following the end of Kobe Bryant’s career.
“When you have teams like the Lakers, the Knicks and Chicago, certain teams lower in the standings, it makes the year a little weird,” forward Taj Gibson said. “You’re used to … going to L.A. and playing against the top of the top. It’s good for basketball as far as having the Lakers being good.”
Except it might not be so good for the Wolves, who have staggered out of the gate against the backdrop of Jimmy Butler’s trade demands. The West was an already crowded conference when James was in Cleveland and Miami, and now his presence puts another franchise in the mix for a playoff spot.
From the Wolves’ perspective, it means the slog to get through the regular season and into the playoffs is going to be one they can’t take for granted, and the Wolves want desperately to move on after falling to the Bucks by 30 on Friday.
If the Lakers are still searching for the right chemistry, it might help them later in the season to get the Lakers now on their home floor before James might fashion them into a contender. “You don’t want to dig yourself a hole in general,” Rose said. “Everybody in the league wishes they could come out and be 5-0, 10-0, but it takes time. We’re happy with the two wins. You can’t be mad about that. Do we wish we could’ve had more? Yeah. But we’ll be happy with the ones we have and try to improve.”