The Los Angeles Lakers season has not gone as expected after a Western Conference Championship run last year in which they lost to eventual NBA Champions, the Denver Nuggets. So far, LeBron James and the Lakers are sitting at .500, with the February 8th trade deadline a little under two weeks away. The Lakers only have one first-round pick they could trade, which is in the 2029 draft, and the only tangible assets are Austin Reaves, D’Angelo Russell, and Rui Hachimura, who have all been in several trade rumors so far. Though moving the pick along with one of the assets listed above may bring Los Angeles a good return, there isn’t a player or package the Lakers could get that would move the needle enough to make the Lakers genuine championship contenders.
ESPN Insider “Not Certain” LeBron Plays For Lakers Next Season
With LeBron James, the Lakers were able to win a championship in the bubble in 2020. Since then, however, it has been a tough go for the Lakers. In the 2021-2022 season, the defending championship Lakers were off to a great start, 30-15 until LeBron James was injured when Solomon Hill dove for a loose ball. In the off-season of that same year, the Lakers would make the trade that would inevitably end their championship hopes, sending Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrez Harrell, and picks for Russell Westbrook. This also made it so the Lakers couldn’t re-sign Lakers fan favorite Alex Caruso, who would sign a four-year, 37-million-dollar deal with the Chicago Bulls. LeBron James is 39 and has a few years left in the NBA. Similar to former Lakers legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at the end of his career, James is still able to have a significant role on a championship team. Still, it is unlikely he’ll ever be hosting the Larry O’Brien trophy as the main star for a franchise. LeBron is in the midst of his 21st pro season and is still averaging a remarkable 25 points, seven rebounds, and seven assists per game.
ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, who has covered LeBron since he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated in high school, recently reported on his podcast that he’s “not certain” that LeBron will play for the Lakers next season. The Lakers may be better off trading Lebron now to recoup assets and look to deal Anthony Davis in the offseason. There are multiple contending teams out in the Eastern Conference, such as the Miami Heat, New York Knicks, or Philadelphia 76ers, that would put together strong offers for LeBron James, but could a young Western Conference team try to add championship experience to their locker room by bringing LeBron in.
Eastern Conference Contenders Compete For Lakers Star
The New York Knicks would have to include Julius Randle, Evan Fournier, their 2024 first-round pick, a 2026 first-round pick, and a 2028 first-round pick for Lakers star forward LeBron James. However, a trade sending LeBron to the Knicks is nearly impossible now, with Randle most likely missing several weeks with a right shoulder injury.
The Philadelphia 76ers have a young star duo with combo guard Tyrese Maxey and last year’s league MVP Joel Embiid. The Sixers would assemble a package around Tobias Harris’s 39 million dollar expiring contract. The Lakers could send LeBron and Taurean Prince to the 76ers for Harris, Marcus Morris Sr., and the three first-round picks the Sixers received via the Clippers in the James Harden trade: 2026, 2028, and 2029 first-round picks.
The Miami Heat have the least draft capital of any Eastern Conference contenders. However, they have a 24-year-old former lottery pick locked up on a 4-year 120 million dollar contract in Tyler Herro. The Lakers could have a lot of interest in Herro, a young sharpshooter who has averaged over 20 points per game this year. The Miami Heat would send Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson, and their 2030 first-round pick, the only available first-round pick Miami can trade before the February 8th trade deadline. The one thing that would stop the Lakers from making this trade and sending LeBron back to Miami, where he won two championships for the franchise in 2012 and 2013, is the Duncan Robinson contract. Robinson is still owed 18 million this season and nearly 40 million the next two seasons.
Western Conference #3 Seed Adds Championship Experience
The Oklahoma City Thunder could make almost any move possible, with the only real restraint being matching salary. The Thunder have between nine and 15 first-round picks in the next seven drafts; five first-round picks could revert to second-rounders if the pick never falls out of their protected range. These picks include the two owed by Houston in 2024 and 2026, the two owed by Denver in 2027 and 2029, and Philadelphia’s 2025 pick. A Utah Jazz 2024 pick may only be conveyed if Utah gives up a first-rounder by 2026. With all the picks in the world to give up, could the Thunder go after LeBron James to bring in an experienced veteran to add to the young Oklahoma City Thunder roster? The Oklahoma City Thunder could offer Davis Bertans, Luguentz Dort, and Vasilije Micic, along with the 2024 Rockets unprotected first, a 2024 top-10 protected Utah Jazz first-round pick, and three remaining pick swaps from the Paul George trade; 2024, 2025, and 2026 first-round pick. This would lead the #3 seed Thunder into the playoffs with a starting lineup of recent first-time All-Star starter Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey, LeBron James, Jalen Williams, and Chet Holmgren. Though it is improbable the Lakers decide to blow their roster up and begin trading LeBron and Anthony Davis to rebuild for the future, it may just be what is best for the franchise in the future with a current roster whose ceiling feels like it was reached last year in the Western Conference Finals loss against the Denver Nuggets.