- Ezra Shaw/Getty
- LeBron James is signing with the Los Angeles Lakers in a massive free agency move.
- It’s unclear what the Lakers may do next to build a contender around James.
- The Lakers have reportedly been pursuing Kawhi Leonard in trades, but trading for him has always been a risk for the team, as it would cost them young players and assets.
- The Lakers have to decide whether they’re okay not contending with James for one season or if they want to go all-in this year.
LeBron James is signing with the Los Angeles Lakers in a massive free agency move that may reshape the NBA.
James alone can change a conference – no non-LeBron team has made the Finals in the Eastern Conference since 2010. He can almost singlehandedly vault the Lakers into playoff contention.
But there is still a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the Lakers and what comes next, as they try to build a contender around James. The Golden State Warriors have made it clear that it requires multiple stars to contend for a championship in today’s NBA.
The Lakers have reportedly been pursuing Kawhi Leonard in trades, believing that landing the San Antonio Spurs star forward could help attract James in free agency.
By James signing first, it’s unclear how the Lakers’ pursuit of Leonard may be affected. The Lakers would surely still love to land Leonard to give them two bonafide stars and a shot at contending for a championship this year. But trading for Leonard was always going to be a risk, as it would likely cost the Lakers some or all of their young core, plus future draft picks. That may be wasteful when Leonard reportedly wants to sign with the Lakers as a free agent in 2019.
The question becomes how patient James is (he is signing a four-year, $154 million deal) and how willing the Lakers might be to waste a year on the backend of James’ prime. In other words, would they and James be okay not contending for a championship this year if it meant adding Leonard next summer and keeping all of their young core?
There’s a danger in waiting, as the Lakers just saw. 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.
Trades for other stars will be on the table for the Lakers, but it’s unclear what other moves they could make in free agency right now. Reports have linked them to other players like DeMarcus Cousins or Nerlens Noel, but neither is the type of player that would swing the balance of power in the West from the Golden State Warriors’ hands.
The Lakers could ultimately choose to sign players to short contracts this offseason to keep cap space open for next summer. Whether they land Leonard or not, having James in a market like LA is the ultimate recruiting tool to bring other star players aboard.
Joining the Lakers was seen as beneficial for James on a few fronts – his family likes it there, he has off-court businesses there, and the team’s future can be molded to fit his window. How exactly they will do so now becomes the biggest question in the NBA.