LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers went into the 2018-19 NBA season with title expectations, looking to dethrone the Golden State Warriors before they could accomplish a three-peat. Now, the franchise has their eyes set on the lottery with a 31-36 record, good for the eleven seed in the Western Conference.
Just two months ago, Anthony Davis went to the media, declaring he wants out of New Orleans, with the Lakers as a preferred destination. Davis, of course, shares an agent with James in Rich Paul of Klutch Sports. When Davis requested a trade, the NBA world connected Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and other notable Lakers in trade talks, the Lakers season fell apart.
The Lakers’ owner and president Jeanie Buss was reportedly furious at the time with James’ agent, she contemplated trading the three-time NBA champion, according to Bleacher Report‘s Ric Bucher.
The subject of moving James, however, was contemplated by the Lakers, a team source said, weeks before Van Gundy aired it. When rumors engulfed the team at the February trade deadline that it was willing to trade anyone other than James to acquire All-Star forward Anthony Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans, James’ agent, Rich Paul, was widely accused of spreading those rumors because Davis is also one of his clients. Paul denied to B/R that he leaked the Lakers’ interest in Davis, but Buss suspected otherwise and was furious. The idea of terminating the franchise’s relationship with Paul by moving James at least crossed Buss’ mind, the team source said, and Paul was made aware of that. That prompted Paul to reach out to Buss to clear the air, and whatever ill will existed supposedly dissipated. At the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference a few weeks later, Buss blamed the media for making the rumors public.
Bucher also speculated what it would take to trade for LeBron James back in February prior to the trade deadline. At age 34, the King’s trade value wasn’t as high as expected:
One Western Conference GM said he would be interested in trading for James to contend with the defending champion Golden State Warriors, but he wouldn’t swap his best player for him because it would defeat the purpose. Translation: James can’t single-handedly lead a team to title contention, especially in the Western Conference. He needs a fellow star next to him, along with the right coach and supporting cast.
“He’s not good enough anymore to take four cadavers and get to the Finals,” the GM says. “Not in the West.”
James does not have a no-trade clause in the four-year, $153.3 million contract he signed last summer, league sources say, but he does have a 15 percent trade kicker—his contract’s value increases 15 percent and the raise has to be accounted for in making the deal work under salary-cap rules—which complicates, but does not preclude, moving him.
“I still think you could get a decent package for him from a bad team,” one Western Conference assistant GM says. “A first-round pick and a good young player. But it would’ve been a lot more a year ago, for sure.”