In the latest installment of NBA trade rumors we go back to the never-ending LeBron James Lakers rumors and look at whether or not LA would have to trade Lonzo Ball to create enough salary cap space to pair a second NBA superstar next to LeBron.
The LeBron to the Lakers whispers have turned into shouts recently as longtime NBA writers like Ric Bucher and Peter Vecsey have both said there’s a much better chance LeBron is in a Lakers uniform on this date in 2018 than a Cavs uniform.
Bucher: "League executives not only expect LeBron to leave but have circled his destination – the Los Angeles Lakers – for a host of reasons. The top three are setting up his post-playing career in TV and movie production, attempting the unique feat of leading three different teams to a championship, and creating a path to an ownership stake in the Lakers."
Vecsey: "Accordingly, I’m publicly terminating the pandemic of speculation surrounding LeBron James’ playing plans past this season. For months, many in the media declared or composed presumption the Lakers could be the beneficiaries of his talents when he became a free agent on July 1, 2018. I’m eradicating all conjecture and uncertainty! I’m comfortable now in stating unequivocally, LeBron will leave the Cavaliers a second time and join the Lakers, and return the team to LA Lore status."
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Adding to the intrigue is the moves the Cavaliers are currently making. Dwyane Wade is likely to sign a one-year, $2.3 million veteran’s minimum contract with the Cavaliers this week. If the deal was any longer, then Cavs fans could start jumping up and down with joy that LeBron might not leave in 2018 as he would never leave his best bud stranded in Cleveland. But it’s plain to see – the Cavs are going all-in on the 2017-18 season in hopes of somehow getting through the Warriors and are also planning for life without LeBron.
The Cavs currently only have one player signed through 2020 (Ante Zizic at 1.6 million), so Koby Altman (and David Griffin for that matter) has done a nice job in setting up the Cavs for one last run as well as a quick rebuild.
LeBron discussed the Lakers rumors at Cavs media day on Monday, obviously not offering up much on the situation.
“It hasn’t changed,” LeBron said. “That’s why I sit up here today, still in this uniform, still ready to lead this organization to a championship. Obviously, you guys know me and anytime I’m able to be a free agent or my contract is ending, then I will approach that when the summer comes. I won’t ever cheat my teammates or cheat the fans or be in a situation where I am talking about free agency all year long. Because I’m not going to give energy to something I can handle in the summertime.
“The fact that I’ve gotta come up here and talk about free agency let’s me know where my game is,” LeBron said. “Does that make sense? If I wasn’t that good, I don’t think we’d be talking about it.”
Trade Lonzo Ball to create cap space?
Lakers biggest goal, salary cap-wise is to get rid of Luol Deng’s three-year, $54 million contract. The immediate question for many is, “why would another NBA team take on that contract – especially when it comes to helping NBA royalty like the Lakers?”
No doubt, many NBA execs admired what Brooklyn Nets GM Sean Marks did this past summer by becoming something of an NBA wasteland of bad contracts. In an odd way, bad contracts eventually give you flexibility in the NBA and Marks has done an incredible job turning a no-win situation in Brooklyn into an organization with a future – a distant future but a future nonetheless. That’s why one of the many teams looking to bottom out hard over the next few years (think Pacers, Bulls, Grizzlies) would take on the Deng contract.
Of course, if the Lakers have their eyes on a second (or third) superstar like a Russell Westbrook or Paul George to put next to James they will have to be willing to trade off some of their young talent. Brandon Ingram and Jordan Clarkson would both need to be involved in a trade out of Los Angeles. If the Russell Westbrook rumors come to fruition as well, the Lakers would have to also entertain getting rid of Lonzo Ball after just one season. Not only does Ball play the same position as Westbrook but more importantly – his rookie deal is fatter than most rookies because he was picked so high at No. 2.
Ball’s contract will leap from $6.8 million this season to $7.4 million next year, $8.7 million in 2019-20 and $11.0 million in 2020-21. LeBron will obviously be in win-now mode if he jumps to the Lakers and will not be waiting for a kid in his early 20s to mature. LeBron could very well force Rob Pelinka and Magic Johnson to trade away Ball, Andrew Wiggins, style in order to open up cap room and bring win-now veteran talent to the Lakers.
Pelinka toned down his rhetoric in regards to 2018 at Lakers media day on Monday.
“We have [flexibility] for two guys, could be for multiple guys, could be used to re-sign some of our own players,” Pelinka said (via the Los Angeles Times). “We have the flexibility to keep the young core intact and then to build with the cap flexibility.”