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LeBron James used All-Star weekend to alert the Los Angeles Lakers about his future

The Los Angeles Lakers might have to trade for LeBron James this summer.

James has clearly been offended by Lakers management twice in the last two weeks. First, when management decided not to make any trades before the Feb. 10 trade deadline after he had pushed for something both publicly and privately. More exactly, it was what he expected. And second, when Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka went overboard in announcing that James was okay with the status quo, when a source told ESPN there was no prior clearance from James.

Since then, LeBron has been banging his knuckles on team doors with trademark passive-aggressive moves, both on social media and in press conferences. He then got aggressive-aggressive during All-Star Weekend in an interview with The Athletic in which he dropped flammable liquid on a previously bubbling concept that he might make one last comeback with the Cleveland Cavaliers before retiring. .

Regardless of how the 37-year-old James attempts to shape those quotes in the future (he was careful to qualify them to some degree), he is known to be a master at dealing with the news media who, while in Cleveland, was talking to a reporter he knows well. LeBron knew exactly what he was doing.

Same thing he was doing last week, in the wake of the trade deadline inaction, when he talked about how his recent knee injury would probably bother him for the rest of the season. The knee is surely an issue, but James was also laying the groundwork to give himself options depending on how the rest of the season plays out for the Lakers (27-31).

What James is doing is probably aimed at one main goal: to force the Lakers into action this summer. He tried to do it right and now he’s doing it hard.

It’s not about leaving Los Angeles, that’s not something James wants to do. It’s not even about playing with his son. Bronny, 17, is a minimum of two years away from the NBA, if he is capable and ready at that age. There’s plenty of basketball from time to time and, as James has shown this season, there’s still gas in the tank to burn before worrying about that dream.

James has never cared about draft picks, present or future. He has had an occasional interest in developing young teammates, adopting a few over the years. But he has never had a problem saying goodbye to them if they become bargaining chips that get him closer to a gold trophy faster. Any young guy on his list who thinks differently hasn’t done his research.

He plays for the present and always wants to win the championship in the season he is in. You don’t get to eight straight NBA Finals, 10 of them in a 13-year span while changing teams three times, focusing only on the long haul. James demands that his teams operate this way, he brings it in every day and expects everyone else to do the same. That absolutely includes management.

Now is when it would be wise to look back on the winter of 2018, when James grew frustrated with a lackluster Cavs team. He had refused to extend his contract the previous summer when a deal for Paul George was on the table. Cleveland team owner Dan Gilbert responded by agreeing to Kyrie Irving’s trade demand, settling on a deal centered on a draft pick and not players like James had made clear he wanted.

There was plausible deniability, but in mid-January James began playing in protest form. Everyone on the team knew this and it was apparent that if you looked closely enough, James’s foot was off the gas. Gilbert and Cavs general manager Koby Altman were at a crossroads and knew there was a strong chance James would leave in free agency, but they still had the rest of the season.

Finally, Gilbert and Altman realized that they had no choice. James was an irreplaceable resource; once he was gone, there might never be another. So, the day before the trade deadline, they made several trades. That night, Altman met with James before the game and told him that the next day they were going to trade for four new players and had decided to use his first-round pick from that year to do so. It was the seventh first round they had traded in the four seasons James had returned.

That night, an energetic James ended their pressure with a trademark 37-point, 10-rebound, 15-assist masterpiece that included a game-winning basket over the final buzzer against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He finished it off with a hall of fame passive-aggressive move of his own, turning his back on Isaiah Thomas as he charged the floor to celebrate. James never wanted the Cavs to sign Thomas and he already knew they would trade him the next day.

The Cavs got four role players at the deadline, but that wasn’t the real prize. That night, the members of the front office looked at each other and realized: what had really changed was James. He followed that up with one of the best postseason runs of his pro career, scoring twice and winning two Game 7s, including one on the road, to reach his eighth straight final.

The Lakers were involved in all of that, going into those trades from the Cavs and using them to get salary-cap space to sign James the following summer and get their first-round pick.

Now they may need to remember it.

After the Lakers won the title in 2020, James extended his contract by two seasons through 2023. Due to the rules surrounding that extension, James was unable to get a player option in the deal. It’s the first time he hasn’t had the option to terminate a contract early since he was on his rookie deal nearly two decades ago.

It wasn’t even a problem when the deal was announced, but now it’s a fortunate circumstance. The Lakers will get this summer without having to worry about James hitting free agency and watch them work before deciding to re-sign.

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During All-Star Weekend, James had words of praise for OKC’s GM, saying he’s the best at spotting talent.

But nothing is free. August 4 is the first day James can extend his contract again. The Lakers will surely offer one. And James will have some demands before he agrees.

The Lakers have a flawed payroll, yes, and James played a big part in putting it together, but that doesn’t mean he’s not ready to divorce her. If Russell Westbrook picks his own player option on him, he will have an expiring contract worth $47 million.

After only being able to trade their 2027 first-round pick, which the Lakers decided not to trade at the deadline, in part because they still owe two future first-round picks on the Anthony Davis deal, the rules will allow the Lakers to trade their 2029 pick. .

Being aggressive and continuing to mortgage the future will be painful and risky. But James is making his feelings clear: he doesn’t care. Do it and they’ll get more than just new players, they’ll keep James deeply involved.

That’s something no team has been able to say no to.

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