ESPN NBA analyst Jalen Rose thinks the Los Angeles Lakers’ title window with LeBron James is closed.
“They invested in a Lakers championship, they got it in the bubble with LeBron,” Rose said this week. “I just don’t believe this storied franchise will win another championship with LeBron on the team.”
Lakers legend and TNT NBA analyst Shaquille O’Neal thinks if the Lakers trade LeBron they’ll never win another title.
“If you trade LeBron, you’ll never win again, so you have to make a decision. If you put LeBron around the right guys, they are definitely going to win,” O’Neal said this week during an interview on CNBC.“I think whoever put the team together needs to step up and try and fix it.”
The Los Angeles Lakers are 27-34, ninth in the Western Conference standings. That’s play-in tournament status, but they are only two games up on the Portland Trail Blazers, who are outside the top 10.
It has been a disastrous season on a number of levels and the Lakers need to figure out what direction they’re headed in. With LeBron James under contract for next season and Anthony Davis signed on for two more seasons, do they retool for a title run next year? Or do the unthinkable, tear down and rebuild?
The path to an NBA championship next season with LeBron and Davis is highly unlikely. The salary cap for next season is $121 million with a luxury tax threshold of $147 million. Between LeBron ($44.4 million), Davis ($37.9 million), and Russell Westbrook who will 100 percent opt in to his player option ($47 million), that’s $129.5 million in salary for three players.
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Add in Talen Horton-Tucker’s guaranteed $10 million and you are in salary cap hell, and that’s just four players. They can’t afford to go deep into the luxury tax. The Lakers aren’t run by uber-wealthy hedge fund or private equity people. It’s a family business, led by Jeanie Buss. The Lakers are the primary avenue of revenue.
The Lakers do not have any draft picks in the upcoming 2022 draft, so they can’t acquire young cheap talent. Even if they jettison players like Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, Wayne Ellington, Malik Monk, etc., they can only sign other similar players to minimum deals.
How is that any better than what they have now?
The Lakers do not have control over their 2023 draft pick as a result of the Davis trade with the New Orleans Pelicans. If the Lakers finish with a poor record again next season and the Pelicans, with a healthy Zion Williamson, make the playoffs, the teams will swap picks. Leaving the Lakers outside the lottery again.
LeBron may not care about draft picks, but the Lakers should.
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Rose is likely correct, the window is closed. But what would a rebuild look like?
It starts with trading LeBron and Davis. Yes, that’s sacrilegious to some of you. But desperate times …
Shaq’s point about trading LeBron means the Lakers “will never win” again has a kernel of truth. LeBron and Davis don’t have no-trade clauses, so the Lakers can move them without their consent. But they are both represented by arguably the second-most powerful agency in the NBA, Klutch Sports.
Why does that matter?
Angering LeBron or Davis by trading them could have repercussions with future Klutch clients. CEO Rich Paul could steer players away from the Lakers. Word spreads around the league about how the Lakers “treat their stars” and the team becomes persona non grata.
But they have to roll the dice on that one.
By trading LeBron and/or Davis they’d be able to bring back a haul of draft picks and young talent on team-friendly deals. Not to mention those salaries will be off the books and they would have cap room to sign other players.
It’s a risky proposition, to be sure. The Lakers would have to draft well and do something they’ve never been particularly interested in, develop players. But what’s the alternative?
Bring in other veterans that LeBron likes, struggle again, miss the playoffs, he leaves in free agency, and you’re stuck with an unhappy Anthony Davis, hoping another disgruntled star in another market wants to come to Los Angeles?
Moving on from one or both stars is hard now, but would be better in the long run.
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