- LeBron James is reportedly aware of how far away the Los Angeles Lakers are from contending for a championship and is okay with it.
- While the Lakers are said to be pursuing trades for Kawhi Leonard, they may also be patient and wait for free agency next year when more star players are available.
- If the Lakers are patient and don’t make many win-now moves, it would represent a far different form of team-building than what James influenced the Cavs to do.
After all, the Lakers had reportedly been trying to land San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard in a trade to pair another star with James. As currently constructed, the Lakers are nowhere near championship contention, even with James.
However, according to several reports, James is aware of the Lakers’ current outlook and is okay with it – for now.
According to The Athletic’s Jason Lloyd, James knows the Lakers don’t have a shot at competing for a championship this year and wants to be patient and help the team grow. According to Lloyd, James wants to help build something “sustainable” in LA, writing, “If it takes him until next summer’s star-studded free-agent class to find help, he’s willing to wait.”
Additionally, Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins reported that when James and Magic Johnson met early in free agency Saturday night, they discussed how to build the Lakers into a championship contender.
The Lakers may still be pursuing Leonard, but from the sounds of it, they won’t compromise the future for him, especially when Leonard reportedly wants to sign with the Lakers as a free agent in 2019.
Trading for Leonard would mean giving up pieces of their young core like Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Kyle Kuzma, plus future draft picks. Those young players and future picks can be crucial to improving if a team signs star players like James or Leonard in free agency.
There’s a risk in waiting for Leonard, as the Lakers just saw this summer. Paul George reportedly made it known last year that he planned on joining the Lakers this summer, so the Indiana Pacers traded him to the Oklahoma City Thunder. After one year with the Thunder, George liked the organization enough to re-sign there on a four-year deal instead of joining the Lakers. The same could happen to Leonard if the Spurs trade him to another team.
So the Lakers’ pursuit of Leonard may continue. But it no longer sounds as if it’s Leonard-or-bust for the Lakers – there are other trade options, or they could make 2018-19 a building year before jumping into the deep free-agency pool next summer.
This is a marked difference from how things went with the Cleveland Cavaliers when James returned in 2014. They immediately traded the No. 1 pick in Andrew Wiggins for Kevin Love. They traded for J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, and Timofey Mozgov months into the 2014-15 season when the team got off to a slow start. They gave big contracts to Smith, Shumpert, and Tristan Thompson to keep together a championship core. They traded a top-10 protected pick to the Atlanta Hawks for Kyle Korver. This was all because of the pressure James put on the organization with his short-term contracts and his demands to win now.
Instead, James signed a four-year deal with the Lakers (with a reported opt-in for the fourth year). The Lakers can afford to be patient in building the team, even if James wasn’t on board.
At the moment, there’s a good chance we won’t see LeBron James in the Finals this year. But perhaps James took note of how the Warriors built one of the most dominant teams ever and realized his best chance at sustained championship contention down the line is to let the Lakers build more organically.