- The NBA world has begun speculating that LeBron James might not play out the rest of his four-year deal with the Los Angeles Lakers.
- The Lakers had a disappointing season this year, and with their front office in disarray, it looks as though the team will not be able to contend for a title as soon as they expected.
- As things stand, it’s possible that the best long-term move for the Lakers could be to trade James to a team looking to win now in exchange for pieces that could help Los Angeles build itself back into a powerhouse in the future.
- According to one NBA insider, a deal with the Philadelphia 76ers that would move Ben Simmons to Los Angeles is potentially in play.
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LeBron James’ first year with the Los Angeles Lakers did not go according to plan.
While James impressed through the opening stretch of the season, an injury left the LeBron-less Lakers to flounder through a treacherous Western Conference, and Los Angeles wound up missing the playoffs for the sixth straight year.
After a tumultuous start to the offseason that included the sudden departure of Magic Johnson, who was the team’s president of basketball operations, and a chaotic search to fill out a new coaching staff and front office, it feels more likely than ever that James might not wind up playing out the end of his deal in Los Angeles.
Rumblings of James’ potential departure began in earnest with ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, who was reporting on the Lakers front office turmoil ahead of a Warriors playoff game. After detailing why the Lakers’ talks with former Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue had fallen apart, Smith said that president Jeanie Buss was hearing all sorts of ideas on how she could kick-start the team’s turnaround.
“Nothing is out of bounds right now,” Smith said. “We don’t know what the hell is going on in Los Angeles. You’ve got folks close to Jeanie Buss imploring her to trade LeBron James. He does not have a no-trade clause, and now you haven’t given him the coach that he wanted.”
On Monday, Tom Haberstroh of NBC Sports Philadelphia added a bit of fuel to the fire, saying that the Philadelphia 76ers might be a destination for King James.
“I think they very well might explore that,” a rival executive told Haberstroh of Philadelphia’s potential to trade for LeBron.
After the Sixers’ heartbreaking loss to the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference semifinals, there are plenty of questions about what the team will look like next year, with both Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris set to become free agents and Philadelphia unlikely to bring back both players on the massive, possibly max deals that they would command.
A deal involving sending Ben Simmons and possibly Harris or Butler on a sign and trade to Los Angeles in exchange for James would have to involve some creative accounting but could be made to work.
While trading away the biggest superstar in basketball after a single disappointing season might seem like an overreaction, there’s reason to think the Lakers might be open to the move.
James is under team control for only two more years, as the last year of his four-year deal is a player option. Bringing James to Los Angeles was supposed to be the move that immediately turned the team into a contender, with the team planning to pair him with another superstar and make a run at a title.
Although this year’s crop of free agents is as talented as ever, the Lakers are no longer seen as the favourites to bring in the likes of Anthony Davis or Kawhi Leonard. Further, with the front office still in apparent disarray, bringing in second-tier superstars such as Kyrie Irving or Klay Thompson could prove more difficult than expected, even with all the selling points that the Lakers have to offer.
Because of James’ lack of a no-trade clause, he wouldn’t have much say in the matter, but there’s reason to think a departure from Los Angeles wouldn’t be the worst thing for him either, especially if he wound up in Philadelphia.
The Lakers were well short of being a playoff team this year and seemed destined for a first-round exit from the postseason, even if James had been healthy the whole season. Meanwhile, Philadelphia was one bounce away from pushing Game 7 against the Raptors to overtime for a spot in the Eastern Conference finals.
Philadelphia was reportedly on James’ short list of destinations during the 2018 offseason, and it’s hard not to believe that a player of LeBron’s ability wouldn’t have made the difference against the Raptors. Maybe the move will end up happening, just a year later than people had assumed.
Additionally, Simmons has been tied to Los Angeles on numerous occasions since his days at Louisiana State University. With the Lakers horizon for title contention now looking a bit longer than expected, it’s possible that the Los Angeles front office feels there’s more to be gained by bringing in a young players with the potential to become the face of the franchise for a long time than to hold on to James with the hopes of cobbling together a championship-calibre roster out of whatever free agents they can manage to pay this offseason.
The NBA offseason is already set to be filled with drama, with more talent than any year in recent memory set to change allegiances in the coming months. While there are only rumours at this point, it’s clear that James’ name will at least be mentioned by those looking to make a deal.
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