Lakers newsletter: Should the Lakers trade LeBron James?

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James looks up during an NBA basketball game.
LeBron James
(Andy Clayton-King / Associated Press)

Good morning loyal readers (or send-directly-to-spam-ers — I see you too), it’s Dan Woike with the latest edition of the Lakers newsletter — a weekly check-in that continues on into the playoffs even if the team I cover doesn’t.

Even though the Lakers have been done for almost a month now, there’s still a lot to talk about. They’re coach-less. Their highest-paid player was at the Met Gala dressed like a Charles Dickens character. And there’s an HBO series heading toward a season finale that’s been airing the organization’s real and imaginary dirty laundry.


But this week, we’re going to talk about something else, albeit reluctantly. And that’s because other people, well, they keep on talking about it.

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So you think the Lakers should trade LeBron James…

LeBron James dribbles a basketball.
LeBron James
(Luis M. Alvarez / Associated Press)

First, it was our terrific columnist Bill Plaschke. And then, on Wednesday, it was ESPN’s master takesman Stephen A. Smith.

Both gentlemen are prodding the Lakers to trade LeBron James as they try and figure a way out of the corner they’ve boxed themselves into over the last three years.

“At this point in his career, there really is only one way LeBron James can help the Lakers win a championship,” Plaschke wrote in February. “They must trade him. It’s their best chance at getting the fastest start on their inevitable rebuild. It’s their last chance to fix the Lakers brand before it sinks into what could be a decade of mediocrity.”

It’s more than fair to wonder about it (Plaschke was on it months ago) as the Lakers stare at a future with plenty of questions.

And on ESPN’s “First Take” on Wednesday, Smith offered his rationale.

“The Los Angeles Lakers as presently constructed are going nowhere,” Smith said. “… [James is] the only person that has extreme value. You’ll never get equitable value for his greatness. But it’s the only chance you have to be immediately respectable if you’re the Los Angeles Lakers.”

But before you deal with whether or not the Lakers should try and trade the player about to be the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, it’s important to ground these kinds of thoughts in reality.

If the Lakers were to make James available, who would want to trade for him? What would the Lakers want in return? And, most importantly, what teams can satisfy both criteria?

The answers aren’t immediately clear.

After conversations with some rival general managers and scouts around the NBA, the first thing to know is that if James were available via trade — and to be 100% clear, there are ZERO indications that’s the case — it wouldn’t be 29 other teams bidding on him.

James is more than a player; he’s a culture that dominates every aspect of your organization. You have to be willing to take that on.

While teams on the outskirts of the NBA’s title picture would certainly have some financial interest in bringing James on board — he’d certainly sell tickets — it would be incredibly short-sighted to add a 37-year-old free-agent-to-be just to get some more people in the building.

Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant dribbles a basketball.
Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant
(Brandon Dill / Associated Press)

So the focus would fall to teams that believe they’d have a realistic chance of winning a NBA title if they traded for James. And inside that group, teams built around some of the best young players — Ja Morant, Jayson Tatum, Devin Booker, Luka Doncic — wouldn’t sacrifice them in a deal for James.

That would leave the Lakers with a fairly shallow pool of possibilities as they consider dealing one of the greatest players of all time. And the kinds of options that they’d probably face are second and third-tier stars paired with picks or younger players with some upside — but not ones that keep you in the title hunt.

A James trade would force the Lakers to face their future much quicker than they want. Are they looking for other players to pair with Anthony Davis to try and stay competitive? (And do those players even exist?) Or would a James trade just be the precursor to a Davis deal? And if you’re doing that, are you truly ready to walk back into the darkness of the lottery, especially with the Pelicans controlling so many of your picks?

It’s why suggesting the Lakers trade James is only part of a solution — if you even think it is one. The next part is finding the right team and the right price, setting the Lakers up for success in the future if they’re getting rid of their best hope for winning in the present.

James is undoubtedly valuable. But if he’s most valuable to the Lakers, sending him out in a trade just can’t work.

Song of the week

“Just Can’t Get Enough” — Depeche Mode

This song is old enough it could’ve been a Laker last season. While we’re talking about trades, it’s fair to wonder what the Lakers’ asking price might be. But knowing how much this organization values stars and their legacies, there might not be a realistic answer, with the Lakers unable to get enough back for James to make it worth it.

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Until next time...

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