Is LeBron the Lakers' next big target?
If Kobe Bryant hangs it up in 2014, the door is open for a new King of Los Angeles
Originally Published: October 18, 2012
By Brian Windhorst | ESPN.com
No team reloads like the Los Angeles Lakers.
Their track record of leveraging their hometown appeal and history, plus applying shrewd management, over the past 30 years is virtually without peer.
With their latest coups -- the stunning Steve Nash sign-and-trade and a victory in the Dwight Howard sweepstakes -- just now coming together for the first time, could the Lakers already be plotting out the next one?
Opposing executives think so. As teams continue their long-range planning and work up opposition strategies, the Lakers remain just as much a threat in the transaction game as they are on the court.
Recently, Kobe Bryant told CBSSports.com that he sees himself playing only two more seasons (2012-13 and 2013-14) and then retiring at age 35. Bryant said similar things in an interview with Yahoo! Sports over the summer.
Bryant has two years left on his contract, and next season he is scheduled to become just the second player ever to earn more than $30 million in a season. The other was Michael Jordan.
Whether or not you believe the ultra-competitive Bryant will follow through with that retirement plan, his statements seem to be a sign that a contract extension or new contract is no sure thing.
In the wake of the Howard trade, much as been made of the massive luxury-tax bill the Lakers are facing next season if they're able to re-sign the big man. ESPN.com salary cap expert Larry Coon has estimated the Lakers could be on the hook for as much as $85 million just in taxes in 2013-14.
But look a little further, to that 2014-15 season, and you'll see something else: The Lakers' projected payroll is almost completely clear. Only Nash is signed for that season, at $9.7 million, though the Lakers will also be paying about $20 million to Howard if they can re-sign him this coming summer.
In July 2013, Bryant's $30.4 million, Pau Gasol's $19.2 million, Metta World Peace's $7.7 million, Steve Blake's $4 million and Jordan Hill's $3.5 million will come off the books. There likely won't even be any first-round draft picks filling up the cap, either, as the Lakers have already traded their 2013 first-round pick to Phoenix in the Nash deal.
Opposing teams that are making their own long-range free agency plans think they see the Lakers' plan coming into focus. As it stands, L.A. will have enough cap space to add a superstar like James.
"It's not a mistake that all those deals end the same year Kobe's does. They have probably been planning for their next phase for a while," said one general manager. "The Busses and [Lakers GM] Mitch [Kupchak] are always thinking about the next big deal."
No one knows this better than Bryant himself, who has been the beneficiary of the Lakers' aggressive maneuvers for 16-plus years.
"I knew how much the Buss family, Jeanie and so forth, wanted to turn it around," Bryant told CBSSports.com. "I've seen them do it. They rebuilt first by picking up Shaq. ... Then that era was over and they rebuilt again. And now they've rebuilt again. I've seen them do it before."
If Bryant does move on after 18 seasons, as he has openly talked about, they may be ready to do it again.
Whether or not James would be interested in listening to a Lakers offer in two years is impossible to predict now. Remember, in 2008, it was hard to see James ending up in Miami in 2010 even though Heat president Pat Riley, a product of the Lakers' way of thinking, was already preparing to make it happen.
At the moment, the Heat are loaded and poised to be title contenders for the next two seasons.
James is signed through 2016, but he can end his contract in either 2014 or 2015 if he wishes to. He has recently said that he's not thought about his contract decision in 2014, even though he recently switched agents. But observers around the league expect James to opt out of his contract in 2014, no matter what happens with the Heat over the next two seasons. That doesn't mean he won't stay in Miami, but it does mean he might be in play again.
"The agent part probably doesn't matter. LeBron is the best player in the league and he's making less than the max, so unless he's seriously hurt he's going to opt out in 2014, if only because I would assume he wants and deserves to get a true max," said one league executive. "Even if the Heat win the next two titles there's a feeling that LeBron is going to become a free agent in two years no matter what."
Just as during the period from 2008 to 2010, James' free agent plans will probably become a big topic over the next 21 months. They will definitely be a part of various teams' long-term cap planning. Presumably, that list of teams includes the Lakers.
Meanwhile, keep an eye on Chris Paul, LeBron's best friend in the NBA. James has wanted to team up with CP3 for seven years or more. In 2005, when Paul was about to be drafted, James asked the Cavs to attempt to move up to get Paul, but the Cavs did not have the assets to pull off such a trade.
Paul and James have only grown closer since, playing together on Team USA four times since 2006 and winning gold medals in 2008 and last summer. Paul will be a free agent in 2013, and his situation could influence James' plans a year later.
In any case, the Lakers are positioning themselves to be major players again, post-Bryant. Based on their long track record, there's no reason to believe they won't aim for the biggest star possible. In 2014, that likely will be LeBron James.
My first thoughts while and after reading this... "Oh no... Not this sh*t again."
Lebron will be everyones target. Get ready for all kinds of stories about how LA is the market he wants to be in and also how much he would love going back to the Cavs. Couldn't imagine he would want to leave the HEAT though.
I can see it now, "The Redecision".
LeBron is looking to create a dynasty with the Heat and in 2014, his main running mates Bosh and Wade would be 30 and 32 respectively. At the Lakers, Nash would be 40 and Dwight Howard would be 28 so lets assume the Lakers clear cap space, is a year of a veteran Nash and a long term peak D-12 going to be better than continuing with Bosh and D-Wade who should both still have a few years left then. To me that would be a hard one to call?
Just thinking about this scenario. could the Lakers let Kobe and Gasol go to FA, sign LeBron and then resign Kobe and Gasol as they had their bird rights or do they have to renounce their intention to resign these guys?
Back to reality, I'd like to see him go back to the Cavs. The team they have now is already better than the teammates he had before, and they're much younger & growing by the day. Here's a look at their current primary players if LeBron was to rejoin the team, vs. the ones he used to play with --
C - Varejao/Zeller > Varejao/Ilgauskaus
Why: In his younger days Ilgauskaus would run circles around Zeller, but in LeBrons day he was half out the door.
PF - Tristan Thompson > Antawn Jamison
Why: Jamison is similar to Ilgauskas, I think a younger Jamison is better than Tristan...but his prime was long ago.
SF - LeBron = LeBron
SG - Waiters > Delonte West/Anthony Parker
Why: Waiters is yet to be proven, but it won't take much to be better than these two.
PG - Kyrie Irving > Mo Williams
Why: Do I really have to explain?
Great...something two years from happening yet ESPN will progressively blow this possibility out of proportion
@Cynthia What's awesome is this team looks like it really needs a small forward
If the Lakers lose Bryant and immediatly get James, I think the NBA would be dead to me.
Its just like LeBron to do something like that.
Wade will be more brittle, He would have figured out Bosh isn't enough in the frontcourt, No cap room to make a legit move but I doubt he goes West because of rivalries, him and KD, him and CP3 he wants to meet those guys in the Finals and I doubt he'd leave Pat Riley mainly because I can see the Heat doing something big to keep him because they recognized Cleveland's mistake and will not let it happen to them.
So it might be trading Wade or Bosh or future picks to get LeBron another star player to run with but Miami will do everything in their power to keep LeBron
Lebron will eventually be a Laker and a Yankee as well.
And stayed inside. Jus dum
And stayed inside. Jus dum
i honestly hope this is the first and last time i hear about lebron being a laker. i can promise, i can actually guarantee you he will not go to LA. either LA for that matter. the only 2 teams that it will be between: the miami heat, and the clevland cavs. i promise you that. not just that he will not do what he did when he was making the decision. he is going to come out right away and say where he is going to play.
I think LeBron will definitely go back to Cleveland and try to bring a championship to his home state.
Despite a lot that's been said, I really think LeBron is a dude that likes to please people. He'll want to make it up to Cleveland fans before he retires.
ESPN is round the clock coverage of Lebron James. Next they will be reporting how big the nuts are in his crap.
A lot would depend on what sort of dynasty LeBron wants to create in Miami, they are defending champions this year and whilst saying they could well have won 3 successive titles by 2014 might be possible, I would think they must surely have a great chance of adding one more title at least over the next two years. Would LeBron walk away from a defending championship team, I doubt it, but he could walk away from a team that maybe came up just short in 2013-14.
He has helped Miami get a title, so you cannot say he'd owe them more but he might want to become a multiple champion on one team aka Kobe, Tim Duncan, MJ etc and going to the Lakers he'd have to start again at nearly 30.
The idea of him, returning to Cleveland is a great story and whilst we could figure it might be something he'd do in later years from a salary cap prospective then 2014 would be the best year. Cleveland would still have Waiters, Irving, Thompson, Zeller and co under rookie deals and LeBron would have a young supporting cast for years to come. There are two more drafts before 2014 and Cleveland would seem a consensus lottery team this year and perhaps even in 2014 plus they are due additional picks from trades so their roster could be even more stacked with top talent then.
Lets say they happened to end up with another top 3 pick in one of the next two years, that would potentially put one of Cody Zeller, Shabaz, Noel, McAdoo, Randle, Jabari Parker, Wiggins or one of the Harrison twins on their roster. Then that would be a team with huge upside that LeBron may want to be part of, the issue could be if say they landed a potential superstar maybe Shabazz or certainly Wiggins or Parker would Dan Gilbert feel they would need LeBron back and could look for the new team to win a title.
Personally I think that LeBron will remain in Miami or at least he might see his 6 year deal out there, sure he could get extra salary but he makes so much in endorsements he may not feel the need to opt out and in 2016 could easily get a max 4 year deal with another side or extend again in Miami. He could even perhaps opt out in 2014 and sign a more lucrative 3 year deal this would take him to 2017 and would not tie him in for extra years with Bosh and D-Wade if they had began to decline. D-Wade would be 35 in 2017, so that could be the sort of time he may look to retire whilst LeBron who would be 32 then might decide to look elsewhere for the end of his career. Miami would have cap space so could start over then quite easily.
No doubt LeBron will be linked with the Lakers even the Knicks and Nets although they will not have cap space.
So let's recap:
ESPN floats a nothing rumor.
ESPN then asks LeBron to comment on said rumor.
ESPN uses that comment as the base to fill programming and space on their various platforms.
It is disgusting.