LeBron James’ first year with the Los Angeles Lakers did not go according to plan.
While James impressed through the opening stretch of the season, an injury left the LeBron-less Lakers to flounder through a treacherous Western Conference, and Los Angeles wound up missing the playoffs for the sixth straight year.
After a tumultuous start to the offseason that included the sudden departure of president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and a rather chaotic search to fill out a new coaching staff and front office, it feels more likely than ever that James might not wind up playing out the end of his deal in Los Angeles.
Rumblings of James’ potential departure began in earnest with ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, who was reporting on the Lakers front office turmoil ahead of a Warriors playoff game. After detailing why the Lakers talks with former Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue had fallen apart, Smith said that president Jeanie Buss was hearing all sorts of ideas on how she could kickstart the team’s turnaround.
“Nothing is out of bounds right now,” Smith said. “We don’t know what the hell is going on in Los Angeles. You’ve got folks close to Jeanie Buss imploring her to trade LeBron James. He does not have a no-trade clause, and now you haven’t given him the coach that he wanted.”
On Monday, Tom Haberstroh of NBC Sports Philadelphia added a bit of fuel to the fire, saying that the 76ers might be a potential destination for King James.
“I think they very well might explore that,” a rival executive told Haberstroh of Philadelphia’s potential to trade for LeBron.
After the Sixers heartbreaking loss to the Raptors in the Eastern Conference semifinals, there’s plenty of questions of what the team will look like next year, with both Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris set to become free agents and Philadelphia unlikely to bring back both players on the massive, possibly max deals that they will command.
A deal that involved sending Ben Simmons and possibly Harris or Butler on a sign-and-trade to Los Angeles in exchange for James would have to involve some creative accounting, but could be made to work.
While trading away the biggest superstar in basketball after a single disappointing season might seem like an overreaction, there’s reason to think the Lakers might be open to the move.
James is only under team control for two more years, as the fourth year of his four-year deal is a player option. Bringing James to Los Angeles was supposed to be the move that immediately turned the Lakers into a contender, with the team planning to pair him with another superstar and make a run at a title.
Although this year’s crop of free agents is as talented as ever, the Lakers are no longer seen as the favorites to bring in the likes of Anthony Davis or Kawhi Leonard. Further, with the front office still in apparent disarray, bringing in second-tier superstars like Kyrie Irving or Klay Thompson could prove more difficult than expected, even with all the selling points that the Purple and Gold have to offer.
Due to James’ lack of a no-trade clause, he wouldn’t have much say in the matter, but there’s reason to think a departure from Los Angeles wouldn’t be the worst thing for him either, especially if he wound up in Philadelphia.
The Lakers were well short of even being a playoff team this year, and even if James had been healthy the whole season, seemed destined for a first-round exit from the postseason. Meanwhile, Philadelphia was one bounce away from pushing Game 7 against the Raptors to overtime for a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Philadelphia was reportedly on James’ short-list of potential destinations during the 2018 offseason, and it’s hard not to believe that a player of LeBron’s ability wouldn’t have made the difference against the Raptors. Maybe the move ends up happening, just a year later than people had assumed.
Additionally, Simmons has been tied to Los Angeles on numerous occasions since his days at LSU. With the Lakers horizon for title contention now looking a bit longer than expected, it’s possible that the Los Angeles front office feels there’s more to be gained by bringing in a young players with the potential to become the face of the franchise for a long time than hold on to James with the hopes of cobbling together a championship-caliber roster out of whatever free agents they can manage to pay this offseason.
The NBA offseason is already set to be filled with drama, with more talent than any year in recent memory set to change allegiances in the coming months. While there are only rumors at this point, it’s clear that James’ name will at least be mentioned by those looking to make a deal.