LeBron James is one of the greatest NBA players of all-time, and also one of the most unselfish. The King is known for his playmaking ability as a small forward, and many regard him as the greatest passer of all-time alongside Magic Johnson.
Yet, other NBA superstars do not want to play with LeBron James. It may seem counterintuitive considering how he plays the game, but this is becoming more of a fact with each passing year. LeBron James is a global superstar, and that means he attracts global attention and brings global drama. In other words, it is LeBron's world when you are on his team.
When the team wins, it's often due to LeBron's greatness. When the team loses, the supporting cast simply isn't good enough. LeBron James is easily one of the five best players to have ever lived, but here are the star players who did not want to play with The King in recent years.
LaMarcus Aldridge was a free agent at the end of the 2015 season. The big man averaged 23.4 PPG and 10.2 RPG for the Portland Trail Blazers at the end of the 2015 season and was easily regarded as one of the best power forwards in the NBA if not the best.
Aldridge was at his best with Portland the last few seasons, and he was a hot prospect. A player like Aldridge should always want to play with the best player in the game, yet he didn't get convinced to join the Cleveland Cavaliers who made the NBA Finals. Aldridge knew LeBron's locker room is always filled with drama, so he signed with the San Antonio Spurs that is run by a tight ship.
Fast forward to 2021, and Aldridge still didn't want to take a chance by joining the Los Angeles Lakers led by LeBron James. Aldridge knew that LeBron takes all the credit when they win, and Aldridge will be blamed if the team loses because he's "old and ineffective". Instead, he joins the most stacked team in NBA history in Brooklyn.
Blake Griffin was a free agent in 2017. After blossoming into a star with the Clippers, he had a chance to test the waters. Cleveland lost in the Finals to the juggernaut Golden State Warriors, and they could have used Blake Griffin's talents. Unsurprisingly, Griffin re-signed with his original team.
Fast forward to 2021, and just like LaMarcus Aldridge, Griffin passed up a chance to play with the best player in the game. Griffin was already receiving criticism for losing his athleticism and averaging career lows in 11.8 PPG and 5.0 RPG, and he did not need any more fuel to the critics' fire. By playing with LeBron, he knows critics will bash Griffin if he doesn't return to his 20-10 ways.
Instead, like Aldridge, he joins the stacked Brooklyn Nets team instead of the LeBron James-led Lakers to avoid the drama of playing with The King.
Jimmy Butler was one of the hottest free agents in recent memory in 2019. Butler averaged 18.2 PPG during the 2018-2019 season and was easily one of the best two-way players in the game. Butler's hard work to become an NBA star and help lead the Philadelphia 76ers to the Eastern Conference Finals was truly impressive.
Of course, a player of Butler's caliber would have taken the young Los Angeles Lakers (with Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram among others) to another level alongside LeBron James. But Butler doesn't like drama, he likes hard work. Instead of joining forces with LeBron James and most likely becoming the favorites in the West, Butler heads East to Miami to be the man.
Jimmy Butler knew Miami's no-nonsense culture without drama is the way for him to prosper. Butler went to Miami, brought his work ethic and leadership to the locker room, and made the NBA Finals the following season. Of course, the Lakers won the chip in 2020 thanks to the Anthony Davis acquisition, but Butler preferred his own decision.
Without a single doubt in anyone's mind, Chris Paul could have easily requested a trade and forced his way to any of LeBron James' teams. Paul has that much power in the league, and so does LeBron James. But Chris Paul, one of the greatest point guards to have ever lived, didn't do it.
Instead, he signs with the Los Angeles Clippers and then requests a trade to the Houston Rockets. Chris Paul then gets traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder, whereby he had a strong final chance to join forces with LeBron James and kickstart the Banana Boat Crew. But Chris Paul didn't do it much to anyone's surprise.
Actually, it's not surprising. LeBron James always has an entire hoopla around him which is not proactive to players under a ton of criticism like Chris Paul. Paul doesn't have an NBA ring, and he will be remembered for that, but he would rather not play with The King to get one. Now that is very strange.
Paul George is recognized as the ultimate complementary superstar. He does everything well on the court, plays lockdown defense, and leaves it out on the court every time. George was a complementary star for the Oklahoma City Thunder behind Russell Westbrook, and now the complementary star for Kawhi Leonard in Los Angeles.
That's right, George would rather re-sign with the Thunder to play with an out-of-control Russell Westbrook than join LeBron James. Simply put, George didn't need the media bashing and LeBron favoritism. George could shield himself from blame by playing with Russell Westbrook because Russ just plays at 110% capacity without a care in the world.
With the Clippers, he receives criticism for his putrid play last season but Doc Rivers gets fired while George gets a max extension. If George suffers a dip in performance playing with LeBron James, his writing is immediately on the wall and James goes without blame.
Perhaps the biggest evidence that players do not want to play with LeBron James is the Kyrie Irving-Cleveland Cavaliers situation. Kyrie and LeBron James led the Cavaliers to the Finals multiple years in a row, but Irving couldn't take it anymore after the final loss to the Warriors in 2018.
Irving shockingly requests a trade from the Cavaliers, leaving his "big brother" LeBron James and the rest of Cleveland in shock. How could Irving leave the most successful team in the East? How could he leave one of the best players to have ever played? In a nutshell, he didn't want to play with LeBron James and everyone knew it.
Irving could not handle the way LeBron gets all the credit and accolades when Irving was the player who took and made the big shots. Irving hit the biggest shot in the 2016 Finals, yet everyone remembers "The Block". Irving had enough, took his talents to be the man in Boston, and never looked back.
The fun guy himself, Kawhi Leonard had a chance to join forces with LeBron James and Anthony Davis to create the most unstoppable trio in NBA history. Everyone knew Kawhi wanted to play in California after winning his chip in Toronto, and the Lakers were a foregone conclusion. It was only a matter of time until Leonard was introduced as a Laker.
But Kawhi did the unthinkable. Instead of joining LeBron and wreaking havoc on the league, Leonard joined the noisy neighbors with the Los Angeles Clippers. Kawhi joined one of the most ridiculed franchises in NBA history because he wanted to take down LeBron and the Lakers, not join them.
Kawhi Leonard is a product of the San Antonio Spurs. Leonard doesn't talk much, dominates the game, and plays at his own pace. He is, in many ways, the complete opposite of LeBron James. LeBron loves the spotlight, loves the attention, and always wants the final word on everything. Instead of being in the "media circus" with LeBron, Kawhi joined the Clippers and never looked back.
Kevin Durant is a special player and probably the second-best talent in the game today behind LeBron James. Many thought Durant and LeBron were a perfect duo because Durant is unselfish and doesn't mind playing next to a ball-dominant star as he showed in Golden State. But that never materialized.
Durant signed with the Brooklyn Nets, a very random decision at the time, opting to play with Kyrie Irving instead of LeBron James. Durant and LeBron would have been the best 1-2 punch since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, and they could have won multiple rings together. Especially considering how Durant didn't mind forming superteams, this was expected.
But Durant took his talents to Brooklyn and played with LeBron's former teammate Kyrie Irving instead of The King. Durant is also quoted for saying that the "toxic" environment around LeBron James is the reason superstars don't want to play him. Game, set, and match.