The most surprising part of tonight’s ABC prime time game between the Lakers and Celtics was a first quarter discussion among the announcing crew on whether L.A. should consider trading LeBron James after the season.
Jeff Van Gundy raised the topic, arguing that the Lakers should keep all their options open in an effort to improve the team. He conceded that trading James is unlikely and it would take a monumental offer for team president Magic Johnson and GM Rob Pelinka to even consider the idea. However, Van Gundy noted that the savings from unloading James’ contract could put L.A. in position to chase other free agents such as Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard.
Broadcast partner Mark Jackson quickly shot down the idea, pointing out that the Lakers’ reputation around the league would suffer if they traded the NBA’s highest-profile player a year after he agreed to sign with them.
Van Gundy found an ally on social media in ESPN’s Bobby Marks, who formerly served as assistant GM with the Nets. “Everything needs to be on the table for the Lakers this summer including no. 23,” Marks tweeted.
In the real world, the idea of trading LeBron without his consent is laughable. He and his representatives wield too much power and he sells too many tickets, jerseys and other merchandise for the Lakers to ever entertain the idea. But hypothetically, it could be in the best interest of the team.
Although he has continued to play at an All-Star level, LeBron’s first year in L.A. has been a disaster. He hasn’t been able to make a playoff team out of a collection of young talent and journeymen players on one-year contracts. Things might have gone differently if the Lakers hadn’t been overwhelmed by a string of injuries, but they always faced an uphill climb in a challenging Western Conference.
If LeBron couldn’t lift the Lakers into contention this year, will he ever be able to? He turns 35 in December and there’s no guarantee the team will be successful in its pursuit of Anthony Davis or hit the jackpot in free agency again. Reports have indicated that some elite free agents, most notably Durant and Leonard, may not be interested in teaming up with LeBron.
James is owed more than $117MM over the next three seasons, assuming he opts in to a $41MM salary in 2021/22. Trading him would open significant cap room and might make the Lakers more attractive to free agents who don’t want to play in LeBron’s shadow or deal with the drama that seems to surround him. Plenty of teams courted James last summer and likely would be willing to part with a nice collection of talent to make a deal happen.
We’re not saying it would ever take place, but we still want to get your opinion on the suggestion. Would the Lakers be smart to consider trading away LeBron this summer? Please leave your answers in the space below.