The Lakers (8-15) have shown absolutely nothing this season to entice LeBron James to bolt for Los Angeles next summer, and they may have to make a monster trade ahead of the February NBA trade deadline in order to show LeBron something (anything) to make him want to move West in just six months.
The Lakers’ best bet for long-term, star-studded success (which is the ultimate goal in LA with Magic Johnson at the helm) is to get out ahead of the Paul George stuff and make it certain that he lands with the Lakers next season. Having George on the roster ahead of the chaotic NBA free agency period would make the Lakers’ pitch to LeBron next summer that much easier. George could use the final few months of this season to get acclimated to the Lakers’ organization and could tag along with Magic and Rob Pelinka in the franchise’s official pitch to LeBron. Consider that when the Heat landed LeBron back in 2010, Dwyane Wade was already there. At the time, Wade could personally explain to LeBron what it was like to play in Miami and pitch to him the upside of the duo playing together.
If the Lakers’ ultimate plan is to land George and LeBron (and it is … it’s the worst-kept secret in sports), simply hoping the stars align by painting a picture that does not yet exist to both of them is not the best plan. LeBron surely wants to know what he’s getting into when he chooses the final destination for his otherworldly NBA career, and that’s why trading for George now to act as bait next summer is the plan the Lakers could be looking at as the trade deadline approaches.
The Thunder are blah
Despite winning three in a row (they also lost three in a row right before that), the Thunder are still below .500 and pose little threat to the Warriors in the Western Conference. OKC GM Sam Presti is a realist, and if the Thunder are still hovering around .500 in February he absolutely will entertain trading George. The Thunder are not in the business of seeing superstar players walk out the door for nothing in return anymore (they learned that the hard way with Kevin Durant), so they will sniff around the NBA to gauge interest in George. The Ringer recently mentioned the Pistons as a prime landing spot for George in a trade, but Presti could certainly pry more out of the Lakers than the Pistons (who know George would be a rental).
The Lakers will have to seriously consider trading one or several or their young studs at some point if they want to fast-forward this process and land LeBron and George. No one, of course, wants Lonzo Ball right now, but Kyle Kuzma is highly coveted around the NBA. Kuzma has a fabulous contract, and would certainly be a player Presti and the Thunder would be interested in. Something like this works, money-wise:
Lakers get: Paul George
Thunder get: Kyle Kuzma, Jordan Clarkson, Corey Brewer
Sending multiple contracts out of Los Angeles will make this whole process easier for Magic and Pelinka when it comes time to negotiating with LeBron. Getting George locked up early would help greatly, and then the Lakers could seriously consider stretching out Luol Deng’s contract (which no one in the NBA will touch). This alternate way for the Lakers to deal with Deng’s contract has been discussed in great length in recent weeks.