LeBron James the NBA player is one of the top two of all time, and debates about him and Michael Jordan rage into the night on Twitter just about every time James plays a game.
LeBron James the personnel manager is somewhere between Rick Pitino and Ted Stepien, as his handpicked rosters in Cleveland and Los Angeles since he left Miami in 2014 have been … take your pick.
G-League teams? Dumpster fires? Guys who wouldn’t win the rec league title at the YMCA? All seem fitting.
Until this season, it didn’t matter, because James built the case for his legacy on taking awful supporting casts from “If this is your team, you’re tanking” to the NBA Finals by himself.
But with the Lakers having largely shut down James and punted the season, their playoff chances all the way down in “well, they’re not technically mathematically eliminated” territory as they sit in 11th place in the West seven games behind the 8-seed San Antonio Spurs with 16 games left, his team has a new problem.
Specifically, their team is so bad that even if they wanted to surround the King with marquee A-list free agent talent, none of those guys want to play in purple and gold.
Kawhi Leonard, who was rumored to be forcing a trade to the Lakers before the Spurs shipped him to Toronto, may be headed to Tinseltown after all … as a member of the Los Angeles Clippers.
Marc Stein of the New York Times passed along a juicy tidbit in his Stein Line newsletter, and it is a vicious slap across the face of not just LeBron but Magic Johnson, Lakers president of basketball operations.
“The Raptors know that they almost certainly have to win it all to convince Leonard to spurn a return to his native Southern California. It turns out that merely winning the LeBron-less East will be tougher than the Raptors ever imagined because of Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Boston and pesky Indiana,” Stein said.
“The Clippers’ hopes of signing Kawhi away from the Raptors, as a result, feel rather real as the calendar flips. One likewise presumes that a full Toronto teardown, headlined by a Kyle Lowry trade, would soon follow if Kawhi exits.”
First off, stop the presses: A member of the national media noticed that the Pacers are more than just “Victor Oladipo and the first 12 fans through the turnstiles at Bankers Life Fieldhouse” and are still the 3 seed as Sunday dawned.
But more importantly, the thought of Leonard joining a team where he will unquestionably be the leader and the best player — the Clippers’ two best players might be their sixth and seventh man in Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell, yet they’re still the 7 seed — has got to be a nightmare scenario for the Lakers’ hopes of surrounding LeBron with stars for a deep Western Conference playoff run before the ravages of age catch up with King James.
Anthony Davis has already hedged his trade demand to the Pelicans, suggesting that he might be amenable to signing with a contender other than the Lakers when he is a free agent after the 2019-20 season.
Paul George was another player with rumored Lakers’ interest, but he re-upped with Oklahoma City and, despite a penchant for whining about the referees, has emerged as a legitimate candidate for MVP.
DeMarcus Cousins, who is making the $5.3 million midrange exception, is another guy the Lakers seem to have no chance at, according to Stein:
“Allow me to also pass on one of the wildest predictions I’ve heard lately, from one wise insider, who thinks even DeMarcus Cousins will consider re-upping with the Warriors for one more season despite the (comparatively) minuscule raise they can offer on Cousins’ current $5.3 million salary.”
ESPN’s Michael C. Wright was another voice echoing the Kawhi-to-the-Clippers rumors on the Hoop Collective podcast.
When asked whether he thought Leonard would sign with the Lakers, Wright said “I do not,” and then elaborated, “That’s just what I’ve been told. It’s what I’ve been told going back to last summer. I don’t see that as something that’s happening.”
The 34-year-old James just passed Jordan on the NBA’s all-time career scoring list; only Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar stand between him and a record that has seemed unbreakable for the past 30 years.
But as he gets older, playing on a garbage-fire team in the tougher of the NBA’s two conferences, and unable to attract any star-caliber teammates, we may remember one last parallel between King James and His Airness.
Namely, we’ll remember his time on the Lakers the way we remember Jordan’s time on the Washington Wizards.
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