The number one story line of the summer, by far, will be where Lebron James decides to lace up his Nikes come winter. Bookmakers are taking bets on where his highness will land, reporters are hypothesizing on what teams he may speak with, and fans across the country are dreaming of him in their team’s jersey like little kids dreaming of Santa Clause on Christmas eve.
The news making the rounds yesterday was that James’ son Bronny James had signed on to transfer to Sierra Canyon High School in Chatsworth, California, a suburb of Los Angeles that produced Marvin Bagley, amongst others. This spurred a myriad of reports that the Lakers were the preferred destination of the Lebron. Other reports cited that James was not a fan of Houston the city, which had been one of the heavily theorized destinations. This led to a text from JJ:
He was hearing somewhere that the trio headed to LA was Lebron James, Paul George, and Chris Paul. This would be extremely difficult to pull off as it would involve signing George and Paul to max contracts, which by themselves would amount to approximately $66 million, and take up 65% of the salary cap. To clear out that kind of space the the Lakers would need to apply the stretch provision to Luol Deng, lowering his cap hit from $18 million next season to $7.36 million. They would also need to renounce the rights to all their free agents, including Brook Lopez, Kentavious Caldwell Pope, Isaiah Thomas, Julius Randle, and others. Add in the cap hit for their draft pick (which slots in at $1.263 million). Doing all that would leave them with approximately $71 in cap space, in which to sign George and Paul. The issue is that in doing so they then wouldn’t have the $28 million in contracts needed to trade for Lebron James, the remaining player salaries on the team (aside from George & Paul) would amount to about $22.5 million (remember Deng would count against the cap for about $7 million, but would be a free agent). So the trio of Lebron James, Paul George, and Chris Paul is not likely to happen.
The duo combination of Lebron James and Paul George teaming up could very easily happen, it would involve all the aforementioned renouncing of players, and stretching Luol Deng. At the end of that exercise the Lakers would have a core of Lonzo Ball, Paul George, Lebron James, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, and Josh Hart. They would have their draft pick, and about $5.7 million in cap space. If they could someone find someone to take Deng’s contract they could extend a qualifying offer to Julius Randle as well. It would almost certainly require attaching assets, whether it be draft picks, or Kuzma or Hart, or a combination of those mentioned is unknown, regardless it would not be an easy task.
The thought of getting someone to take Deng off their hands leads us to the third possibility, one posited by ElliotfrmBoston and echoed by James Stewart of Boston’s Sports Hub 98.5, that the next three headed monster would be Lebron James, Paul George, and Russell Westbrook.
The math of this occurring is viable because in this scenario Lebron would opt into his contract with Cleveland and be traded. Now, the logic of the Cavs making a deal I understand, they would be getting something back for Lebron where otherwise they would be getting the
But honestly if I were the Thunder I would need to be blown away by the offer, short of Westbrook walking into Sam Presti’s offices and demanding a trade. Lets for a moment assume that is happening, thus motivating Presti to make a move. In this scenario the Lakers would NOT be stretching Luol Deng, they would need his contract to make the numbers work. The Cavs would be receiving a young piece to help kick start their youth movement, while also dropping below both the salary cap, and dropping well below the luxury tax line, something they should have no interest in being near if they’re not viable contenders, which they would not be.
The Thunder in the trade scenario I’ll outline would have the opportunity to add a young stud piece that was often compared to Kevin Durant coming out of college, while also adding an all star and possibly scaring Carmelo from opting in, which would provide the Thunder serious salary relief. Worst case, even if Melo opted in it would set the Thunder up very well for some moves in the summer of 2019.
Now, I’ve walked through various numbers, and cap space, etc. during this analysis, so lets take a moment and just bask in the blockbuster nature of this without the numbers and just trust that I spent time running the numbers to make sure they work.
TO THE CAVALIERS:
Luol Deng & Lonzo Ball
TO THE THUNDER:
Kevin Love, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, Lakers 2019 1st rounder, Lakers 2021 1st rounder
TO THE LAKERS:
Lebron James & Russell Westbrook
The Cavs would then work out a buy out for Deng, while removing Love’s salary and adding a young piece, Ball, to pair with whomever they draft at #8 in the draft. The chief factor in play here is financial as they’d clear out about $45 million in salary (or really about $10 million since Lebron’s salary is likely coming off the books regardless), while also adding a better long term piece than Kevin Love.
The Thunder would do it (again, in the scenario where Westbrook is demanding a trade) because getting an All Star caliber forward in Love to pair with up and coming Brandon Ingram and Steven Adams would be a nice front line, though Adams & Love would not be in line with the en vogue style of long wings in lieu of post players. Throw in Josh Hart who would be a serviceable guard, and a couple future firsts and it seems like a viable option.
The Lakers, before this trade would need to sign George first, and do the renouncing (just assume the Lakers have to renounce free agents) unless they are only going to sign one max free agent. Because those players (James & Westbrook) would not be coming into fully cleared cap space. At the end of this Rob Pelinka would have assembled a roster of Lebron James, Paul George, Russell Westbrook, Kyle Kuzma (though I could very easily see Presti demanding Kuzma on top of, or instead of, Hart, and at the end of the day, the Lakers would relent) Ivaca Zubac, Tyler Ennis, Thomas Bryant, and whomever the Lakers select in the first round of this years draft.
In spite of what the Celtics tried to do in the playoffs, it is not advised to move through the year with an 8 man roster, but the Lakers would now be a in position to try to add youngish guys looking to move past the bust label with a 1 year make good type contract on a contender, guys such as Michael Carter Williams, Nerlens Noel, Glenn Robinson III, or Wade Baldwin. Or more likely, vets looking to chase a ring, guys such as Anthony Tolliver, Devin Harris, Mario Chalmers, Ersan Ilysova, Vince Carter, or Mike Scott. The Lakers would be over the cap after these trades, after dropping below to sign George, so there would be no MLE, the only avenue remaining would be veteran minimum contracts, but as I stated, they would now be a desirable destination able to attract quality vets on the cheap.
IF Lebron decides to go to the Lakers, there will be no shortage of avenues to boost the Lakers to contender status, whether its sign George, look to get Boogie Cousins at an injury discounted short term deal, and trade for James, or any of the scenarios played out. Worst case, if the Lakers were to sign James, and George into cap space via renouncing and stretching, they’d still have a core of Ball, Ingram, Kuzma, James, and George. While that isn’t a BIG line up, it sure is a long one.
If that line up can push the Warriors, and with Lebron in the west, it’d open up the distinct possibility of the next generation of Lakers vs. Celtics, and don’t today’s children deserve that?
- By Jason Sullivan
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