Before NBA All-Star weekend, the idea that Los Angeles Lakers could be exploring a trade for LeBron James was considered absurd. James’ mini-media tour in Cleveland sparked speculation that the Lakers might be forced to consider trading the NBA legend this offseason.
In case you missed it, James left the door open for a return to the Cavaliers, emphasizing that he will play his final NBA season with his son Bronny James even if it’s not with the Lakers, and praised several general managers whose names he didn’t know. They are Rob Pelinka. Heavy has previously spoken about the idea of a agreement between the Cavaliers and the Lakersbut James does not have a no-trade clause that gives Los Angeles the ability to explore offers from teams beyond the Cavs.
If James doesn’t sign an extension this offseason, one team to watch is the Knicks. While James doesn’t have a no-trade clause, the Lakers likely want to work with Klutch Sports to transfer James to a destination of their choice. James has spoken repeatedly about his affinity with New York.
The turning point in a hypothetical deal is likely to be the inclusion of RJ Barrett. If the Knicks trade Barrett to the Lakers, James would land in Madison Square Garden with little help around him.
A possible transfer option would be the Knicks sending Julius Randle, Evan Fournier, Obi Toppin and Cam Reddish to the Lakers in exchange for James. Instead of Barrett, the Knicks would send multiple first-round picks to the Lakers.
The Knicks could also modify the deal to include Kemba Walker, who has clearly fallen out of favor in New York. From the Knicks’ perspective, management is likely willing to trade Barrett or anyone on their roster if it makes it possible to sign James. Other attractive young players on the Knicks include center Mitchell Robinson and shooting guard Immanuel Quickley.
Why the Lakers would consider trading LeBron
There’s a good chance James’s comments are meant to pressure Lakers management to go all out this offseason. The Lakers will be able to trade multiple future first-round picks this summer, and Westbrook will be in the final year of his contract, which could make it easier for him to move. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst paints a bleak picture in Los Angeles by pointing out that the Lakers may have to make a trade this summer to convince James to sign an extension.
“But it’s not free. August 4 is the first day James can extend his contract again,” Windhorst detailed on February 21. “The Lakers will surely offer one. And James will have some demands before he agrees.”
“The Lakers have a flawed roster; yes, James played a big part in putting her together, but that doesn’t mean he’s not ready to divorce her, but they do have options. If Russell Westbrook picks his own player option on him, he will have a $47 million contract set to expire.
“…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 you’ll get more than just new players, you’ll keep James deeply engaged.”
If the Lakers can’t find a trade that appeases James, the franchise may need to consider a full rebuild that focuses on trading the superstar himself. The most preferable option is to build around James, but if the All-Star makes it clear he’s leaving in 2023, the Lakers could explore a blockbuster trade.
What about trading AD to the Knicks?
Another option for the Lakers is to build around James and trade Anthony Davis. This comes with obvious challenges, given that Davis is a Klutch Sports client and that James lobbied for the Lakers to acquire him.
Still, James has shown he’s willing to leave almost any player behind if his presence doesn’t lead to wins. If James could be brutally honest, he’d probably feel some disappointment that Davis hasn’t been able to stay in shape the past two seasons. During an interview with Heavy.com NBA editor Sean Deveney, a league executive suggested switching to Davis to the Knicks.
“Oh my gosh, Leon (Rose) would love that,” the NBA executive explained to Heavy. “He is exactly what they need, a true superstar. But the assets are not there. The best deal, look at the Knicks’ books, the best they could do is Randle, Derrick Rose and RJ Barrett.
“I think LeBron wants to play Derrick Rose and Barrett is a good prospect. But what’s after that? Is Randle the best you can get? No way. I think AD said he was going to New York when the Pels traded him in 2019, but I don’t know if he wants the scrutiny he would receive. All of his injuries would be on him.”