I'll let you in on a poorly-kept secret of mine: I'm not a huge
fan of (trade) rumor talk serving as the primary source of NBA
It especially irks me when it's done for players well under
contract, or done without firm, he's-absolutely-out-of-there intel.
What teams (and players) are doing on the court is infinitely more
fun and interesting than where they're pushing to go in the future,
for me. It's why my writing is mostly film-intensive, and why
The Dunker Spot podcast
It's important for me to set the stage on my general thoughts
because I want you to recognize how hypocritical I'm about to be.
There's an exception to every rule, as the old adage goes, and boy
is this LeBron James situation looking like the anomoly of all
The "where's he going and when can he get there?" wheels have
been turning in my head since Saturday. LeBron decided to use
All-Star Weekend — generally a time period for rest, fun, and a
celebration of excellence — to send a message to the Los Angeles
Lakers' front office.
We knew he was frustrated with how the season was going; a 27-31
record will do that to you. We can also surmise that's he's over
the Russell Westbrook Experiment. It's been a clunky fit on the
court that's come with its own media back-and-forth. And in light
of former Lakers showing out (hi, Kyle Kuzma) and other
alternatives trade targets looking pretty darn good (hi,
DeMar DeRozan), it's easy to see why LeBron's relationship with the
Lakers isn't particularly peachy.
(Of course, there are some easy counters to be made. One could
argue injuries to LeBron and Anthony Davis have played a larger
role in this season-from-heck than Westbrook's missed jumpers. It's
hard to build chemistry when people are in and out of the lineup.
Also, hey, LeBron (and Davis) kiiinda vouched for
Westbrook, and it's pretty well documented that rosters are
genearlly shaped in LeBron's image. He
isn't the front office, but he has enough of an
influence where the woe-is-me card doesn't hit the same.)
To the message: LeBron found it appropriate (read: strategic) to
let it be known that a return to Cleveland isn't out of the
That would be pretty light — heck, All-Star festivities were in
Cleveland so why wouldn't this come up? — if that didn't also come
with compliments to Sam Presti's talent
evaluation. Or an announcement, via The Athletic, that his final
season will be played wherever his son Bronny gets drafted/signed.
Or a few days
following some Les Snead praise, conveniently showered upon him
after an actionless trade deadline from his own team's general
All of that got me thinking. If LeBron is already setting the
stage for an exit, the roster is flawed with limited cap space or
pick ammo in the short term, and the top of the conference is
pretty set with Phoenix and Golden State (and Memphis, plus a
healthy version of Denver if you want to go that route) — why not
press the big red button this offseason?
Why not trade LeBron?
It's an insane-adjacent thought, but think about it. If you know
he's gone, and you aren't in position to compete for a title in his
last season, why not work with him and rip the Band-Aid off?
But that leads into the other question that has me stuck: What
would a deal even look like?
The value-question is a tough one to answer. LeBron is
undoubtedly one of the five best players in the league (and of
all-time), but he's also 37 years old and comes with an internal
power shift that you better be ready for. How many teams have the
ecosystem for LeBron, a roster with good enough pieces to talk the
Lakers into and a remaining cast that LeBron could compete with
Not very many.
The first team that came to mind was the Phoenix Suns.
They're the best team in the league right now, and have a trio
of young pieces — Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson and the
oddly-wasn't-given-a-max Deandre Ayton — they could theoretically
move in the summer for LeBron. Between Ayton's max in a
sign-and-trade, Bridges' extension kicking in and Johnson's team
option, the Suns could easily get to north of $40 mililion in
salary to make it work.
(There could be some haggling for Johnson. The Suns do have
all their picks from 2023 and
onward, so maybe they could sub in a first or two down the road in
an effort to keep him out of the trade.)
What's left? A trio of Chris Paul (happens to be one of LeBron's
best friends), Devin Booker and LeBron. The playmaking and general
IQ of the Paul/LeBron convo would make an already-elite half-court
attack more difficult to deal with. Even this stage of LeBron would
help solve the rim pressure issue; the Suns have ranked last in rim
frequency in both seasons of the Paul era, per Cleaning The
Beyond the Suns, the Cavs could obviously get in the room. They
could dangle Evan Mobley if they wanted to and make that
phone call a short one; they absolutely won't (and shouldn't!) do
The Cavs also have their first-rounders from
2023 and onward, and have enough non-Mobley and non-Darius Garland
pieces — Jarrett Allen, Isaac Okoro, Klutch client Collin Sexton,
Lauri Markkanen — to put something intriguing together if they
don't want to play the wait-for-free-agency game.
Atlanta (John Collins, De'Andre Hunter) could build something
out to pair LeBron and Trae Young together. It's hard to believe
the Knicks wouldn't want to get in on the LeBron sweepstakes,
though it's tough to guage what the stock of RJ Barrett (or Julius
Randle, for that matter) is these days.
Could New Orleans build a package around Zi...
Anyway, color me intrigued by the prospect of a LeBron trade —
even if it is super unlikely.