Lakers Turmoil: Why LeBron Will Eventually Demand a Trade From LA
When LeBron James took his talents to Long Beach this summer, LA was to be the King’s final throne as a professional basketball player. With enough gas in the tank for a few more shots at a title, Tinseltown was where LeBron would make his last stand.
After a confusing offseason, a botched Anthony Davis poaching, and a Lakers BRASS disinformation campaign, the situation in LA is suddenly an awkward one. It looks increasingly likely that LeBron and Co. will miss the postseason.
No biggie, right? This season was always a question mark, which is why James signed an uncharacteristically long contract. After all, what about the loaded 2019 offseason?
Well, what about this off-season?
As best I can tell, the Lakers are on a collision course for a rude awakening, and from the ashes of their own disappointment, LeBron will begin to hatch his exit strategy. The writing is on the wall for things to go from bad to worse in LA.
Even before exercising his opt-out in the summer of 2021, LeBron James will be traded from the Los Angeles Lakers.
Chapter 1: A sad summer
However ugly the 2018-19 campaign may be for Los Angeles - and make no mistake, things are quite bad - the team’s management will quickly turn its attention to free agency this summer. It was always assumed LeBron would be comfortable writing off this year. And with just $66 million on the books for next season, the Lakers should be able to lure some elite talent to join the King next season. A few creative trades could open things up even more.
This has been an essential and exciting, yet wholly unsubstantiated pillar in the LeBron to LA saga. The Lakers would build a star-studded roster, and the rest would figure itself out.
Today, in March of 2018, LA’s pipe dream looks especially dubious. Because a quick glance at the best free agents this summer or the league’s disgruntled stars begs a simple question: Who exactly is joining LeBron’s Lakers?
Should the Lakers land Anthony Davis, perhaps all of what follows is a moot point. But it’s a fair and rather scary thing to wonder what LA does if the Brow doesn’t end up in purple and gold.
Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Kawhi Leonard will all theoretically be available, and are the type of player who each could very quickly help tip the scales, even in a crowded Western Conference (we’ll get to that). But once Durant lands in New York, Irving re-ups with Boston, and Leonard signs with the cross-town Clippers, free agency is far less glitzy.
Assuming the Lakers want to win with established talent, is a Kemba Walker-LeBron-DeMarcus Cousins core really the ticket? Is Nikola Vucevic enough of a star for Los Angeles? Can Jimmy Butler handle playing second fiddle?
In the summer of 2018, the Lakers neglected to snag flippable assets after striking out in free agency. Instead, the team brought aboard NBA castaways like Michael Beasley and Lance Stephenson.
If the team once again fails to land a big star to pair with LeBron, it can’t afford to make similarly ill-advised signings. More importantly, the best players in the league are all too familiar with the arrogance and the incompetence the Lakers have displayed in recent memory. It’s already fair to wonder if NBA stars don’t want to play with LeBron. If the perception is that he plays for a toxic franchise, look out.
The bottom line is that the coming summer is of paramount importance to the Lakers and to LeBron. There’s plenty of room for disappointment, and James usually doesn’t thrive in these circumstances.
Chapter 2: The deflatingly familiar 2019-20 season
The Lakers strike out on a big star, but have what appears to be a reasonably successful off-season. Magic lands Kemba Walker and a few other nice players. Maybe Marcus Morris and Danny Green. TV personalities and blog boys alike lavish the Lakers with praise.
However, soon it will become clear that this roster facelift simply isn’t enough. Not for LeBron and not in this Western Conference. There are too many loaded teams and up-and-comers.
Without a premier running mate, LeBron won’t be able to coast during the regular season the way he likes, leading to frustration and the usual circus that follows. With the Lakers clearly in the second-tier of competition in the Conference, we’ll see a similar pattern of frustration and woe.
Luke Walton’s days are likely numbered, and I doubt he finishes out the 2018-19 season. That means that when things go south next year, the Lakers won’t be able to play the “fire the coach” card for a mid-season scapegoat. So they’ll over-pay for a star and force the issue on trade. Kyle Kuzma and Lonzo Ball for Bradley Beal, say. Or maybe they finally move on from Brandon Ingram, if they haven’t already this summer. Bring in a Jrue Holiday or a Myles Turner.
A major problem is that the ill-will the Anthony Davis saga brought this season is hard to measure. It’s current roster is fraught with apathy or disdain. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Lakers gut their roster this season to try and dispel some of the rot and vexation. But at the same time, the team is betting on those same alienated young players as their key assets in bringing in elite talent.
The Lakers very publicly poisoned the well, but need to convince the league to come have a drink. A mid-season move that yields a Bradley Beal-type might not be available to the team at all.
At age 35 and in his 18th year of service, LeBron will re-enter the postseason frustrated and tired. He and his woefully inadequate teammates will try their best, sure, but pick your poison. Kawhi’s Clippers? Whatever Joe Lacob or Daryl Morey add this summer? The youthful likes of the Nuggets or the Jazz?
Without another Dwayne Wade or Kyrie Irving, LeBron won’t sniff another title. And so by the summer of 2020, the King will have finished his second embittered year in LA.
Chapter 3: Summer 2020 and beyond
By next season, the NBA is going to be full of superstar duos and superteams, the likes of which will make LeBron anxiously jealous.
Boston will have Kyrie, Davis, and Jayson Tatum. In New York it’ll be Durant and Zion Williamson. Dallas has the Euro boys, while Houston will continue to be an offensive party. The Splash Brothers will undoubtedly have another new running mate, and the Process will be busy Processing.
All across the Association, there will be stars stacked on stars, all while LeBron continues to do his best with b-list talent. It takes multiple generational players to win titles in the NBA, and at this point in our story, LeBron is by far the only qualified candidate on the Lakers.
The 2020 free agency class isn’t much to sneeze at, and so now LA enters the 2020-21 season with a substandard club yet again. Nearing the age of 36, LeBron feels his age in new ways. The light at the end of the tunnel isn’t so faint.
James moved to Los Angeles for his family and his business. Upon signing with the Lakers, he announced nearly a dozen new projects, from Space Jam 2, to his 2 Chainz album, to the The Shop on HBO.
But we’re two years removed from that transition. LeBron will have a more established, consistent media team and routine in LA. His kids will be established in their schools, his family life much more settled. Would it be all that disruptive if Dad went on a prolonged business trip?
I very firmly believe LeBron chose the Lakers for off-the-court reasons. And I respect and even commend that choice. But I also believe he expected to build a championship contender, and rather quickly.
Two years of botched superstar trades and underwhelming free agency periods will quickly erased the good-will he has toward the Lakers front office. And however much he may downplay it, two straight years without reaching the Finals will fiercely reignite comparisons to Michael Jordan - and even Kobe for that matter. To that point, Lakers fans might also begin to erode the relationship.
The bottom line is that two seasons of failed expectations will ask LeBron to reconsider the suggestion that there “isn’t anything left I have to prove.” He’s too fiercely competitive. He’s too affected by losing and the negative press. And rather than wait out the season, before the spring of 2021, LeBron James will request a trade from the Los Angeles Lakers.
Chapter 4: Last Chance Mustang
In a delicious twist of irony, LeBron will unceremoniously demand a mid-season trade, releasing a list of suitable teams. And unlike the New Orleans Pelicans, the Lakers will indeed grant LeBron’s wishes.
And off he’ll go for one last ride. Perhaps to join his Klutch prodigy Ben Simmons in Philadelphia. Maybe he’ll finally, finally be a New York Knick. I would even think the Warriors or Celtics would be on the table.
Winning solves everything. Even at an advanced age, adding LeBron will undoubtedly tip the scales. The stench of panic and desperation will quickly give way to glory and praise.
In the end, the Lakers weren’t able to give LeBron what he wanted, what he needed. It was a marriage built without a steady foundation, without an adequate plan.
As soon as the Anthony Davis coup failed this season, the stress fractures began to really present themselves. An inexperienced front office and a slightly depressed asset trove met was blindsided by an stubborn NFL family and an NBA unimpressed by the usual glamor that comes with LeBron and with the Lakers.