The Los Angeles Lakers are in a strange spot. On one hand, their front office has been painted as a complete mess with the organization as a whole hanging by a thread. On the other hand, they are one significant free agent or trade addition away from being a legitimate championship contender, largely for one very simple reason: They have LeBron James.
But for how much longer?
Speaking on The Sedano Show, Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times and ESPN's Dave McMenamin both said they have reason to believe the Lakers are skating on thin ice with LeBron, who could feasibly want to part ways with the Lakers prematurely should they fail to put together a championship-contending roster in the very near future. Here are the comments worth noting from the show:
Bill Plaschke: I'm hearing that if they whiff on free agency, and if they whiff on a trade, which I don't know how likely that is, but if that happens, they've got big trouble with LeBron. I mean the LeBron era could be over before it starts here.
Dave McMenamin: Everyone I speak to associated with LeBron, they are holding the rope for now, and all they can do is be positive because this is going to be a crucial five-week stretch. But on the other side of that, if it's July 10th in Los Angeles and it's Nic Vucevic [that the Lakers have had to settle for], or whomever does not meet the criterion of bringing in a star who can make them an immediate contender, you could only imagine where things could go.
Plaschke: I heard this for the first time yesterday, somebody very connected said 'You know what, if they whiff, LeBron's going to say either I'm out of here or get me out of here, or the Lakers just might as well just get him out of here.' So this is huge.
Before we go any further, let's be clear that LeBron is under contract with the Lakers for at least the next two seasons (the final year of his four-year deal is a player option, meaning he can opt out of his contract after three years in the summer of 2021). If he were to become unhappy and for whatever reason want out of Los Angeles, the Lakers wouldn't have to grant him his wish. Technically.
But we know how these things go. We know the pressure that comes with the threat of losing a star player for nothing, and we surely understand the power and influence that LeBron and his power camp wield. If they want out, and they make it known, and they start pressing their panic-inducing buttons, the Lakers are going to be feeling some serious heat.
Beyond that, let's look at this practically. Yes, trading LeBron sounds outrageous, but if the Lakers don't add anyone of consequence this summer, they're not going to be a championship contender. They might not even be a playoff team. They could, theoretically, bail on next season and wait for Anthony Davis to potentially, hopefully, come to them as a free agent in 2020, but that's a big wild card.
If Davis gets moved somewhere else this summer and likes that situation enough to sign long-term -- say in Boston, or New York -- what do the Lakers do then? Risk spending the duration of LeBron's contract, which was supposed to put them in the championship picture, topping out as a second-tier playoff team with nothing significant to show in the summer of 2020, when he could just walk away for nothing?
If the Lakers don't score big this summer, they simply have to start thinking beyond the LeBron James era, as premature as that may sound after the first year of a deal. That doesn't mean they have to do anything. But they have to think about it. And if LeBron and his camp start pressing the issue even more, well, you can read the handwriting. To say this is a big summer in the land of Purple and Gold is an understatement.
Would keeping LeBron just to win a few more games and potentially make it to the first or second round of the playoffs be worth giving up a trade package that could absolutely stock their future?