INDEPENDENCE — To LeBron James, the Golden State Warriors are a highly respected rival — nothing more.
Now and forever.
James strongly denounced a report that said he would consider playing for the Warriors if the NBA champions were able to restructure their roster to accommodate the four-time league MVP. On Thursday, ESPN, citing anonymous league sources, reported James would meet with the Warriors this summer if they cleared the salary cap space to sign him, assuming he will opt out of his contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers and become a free agent.
“It’s nonsense, and it’s a non-story,” James said Friday following the Cavaliers’ practice. “I think it’s a discredit to what I’m trying to do here. It’s a discredit to my teammates and the coaching staff here. My only focus right now is trying to figure out how we can become a championship-caliber team in these next few months. It’s been so many stories about me in the last few months, in the last few days, about where I’m going and where I’m at and what place I’m in.
“I’m here, I’m right here, I’m right now and this is my present and this is where I’m at.”
James said he awoke Thursday to an alert and messages on his phone about the report and “the first thing I did I started laughing, actually.”
The 14-time All-Star said he soon became upset, however, knowing the damage that kind of story can cause. James was most bothered by his teammates having to wonder about his commitment in getting the Cavs back to a fourth straight NBA Finals.
While others can speculate about James’ future intentions and how any move might tarnish his legacy, he made it clear that no one speaks for him.
“If you don’t hear something coming from my voice, then it’s not true,” he said. “I don’t give a damn how close they are, I don’t care if it’s my kids, or my wife or whatever. If it’s not from me, it’s not true. I just want you guys to know that my focus right now is on the Cavs and how we can get back to the Finals for a fourth straight year. That’s my focus. And everything else is going to get talked about, but it’s not a distraction. But like, I think it’s just unfair to my teammates that come here every day. I mean, I can handle it myself. But it’s unfair to those guys.”
James often uses social media platforms to comment on stories or make statements. He didn’t post anything on Twitter and Instagram on Thursday because he felt it was important for him to respond in person.
“You know how real this is right now,” he said. “Like, this is my focus. Nothing else is stopping me from trying to get this team back to the Finals.”
The speculation about where he plans to continue playing after this season is only going to increase. James understands that, and while him joining forces with Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and the other Warriors might make for entertaining sports talk radio, it’s not grounded in any truth.
James holds the Warriors’ organization in high regard, but not to where he would ever consider being a part of it.
The 33-year-old has said previously he would like to finish his career with Cleveland, the home state team he left previously as a free agent in 2010 for Miami. If he declines his $35.6 million contract option this summer, he’ll be a free agent again but that would not preclude him from re-signing with the Cavs.
That’s months away and James is certain there will be other stories linking him to other teams.
“I know exactly how it works,” he said. “There are 30 teams right now that at the end of the day probably want to sit down with me at the end of the season, right? Correct. It’s so easy to make a story out of that.”
In the short term, James and the Cavs are dealing with the loss of All-Star forward Kevin Love for two months. Love broke his left hand Tuesday, and while he won’t need surgery, his eight-week recovery timetable means he won’t be back until just before the playoffs.
James is coming off a bad stretch — for him — in recent weeks. His statistics have dropped across the board, and he recently had a career-high 11 turnovers in one game while averaging 4.5 turnovers in January.
“I haven’t had a great couple weeks, but the couple weeks I’ve had would put guys in the All-Star Game,” said James. “I’ll be all right. I’ll get you better numbers, I promise you.”