Lebron James’ Move To Los Angeles Could The Stage For Lakers’ Resurgence
There is no doubt that, World Cup upsets aside, the biggest sports news coming out of the past weekend was the announcement that LeBron James will be exchanging his Cleveland Cavaliers jersey (again) for the gold and purple of the Los Angeles Lakers.
The news sent ripples – even shockwaves – throughout the hoops community, and James’ four-year contract worth $154 million could indeed signal a sea change for the Lakers in particular and for the National Basketball Association’s Western Conference in general.
For starters, the once (and future?) so called “King James” signed a maximum salary deal for a guaranteed term of four years instead of signing on year to year (as he was during in last stint with the Cavs). At least to us, it seems like the most obvious explanation is that the Los Angeles show runners have seemingly indicated that they are once again taking steps to position (or rebuild) the Lakers into a squad of legit championship contenders. That assumption is further backed up by the lateral moves the Lakers’ bosses made to start filling in other gaps in the roster, as they signed deals for one year worth $12 million with shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pop, $4.4 million with wing Lance Stephenson and JaVale McGee (who will only get the “veteran’s minimum” of approximately $2.4 million), all of which have skill sets that can help maximize James’ own.
However, James’ decision move to LA, though widely anticipated after the Cavaliers were basically blown out by the victorious Golden State Warriors in the two teams’ fourth consecutive meeting to contest for the NBA championship, has nevertheless created some negative implications for the Lakers going forward. Primarily, it comes back to the money question. By signing James and Caldwell-Pope (and if they keep hold of restricted free agent Julius Randle), the Lakers could be looking at a very small amount of wiggle room vis a vis their remaining salary cap – only around $2 million or so to play with.
That means that just about the best the LA management could do would be to pull in another veteran player like McGee, and even in that case they would have to do some finagling and fidgeting with the numbers to make something happen. However, if the Lakers let Randle go they could free up a further $25 million (provided they also do not elect to re-up Senegalese Luol Deng, who has never really performed up to his level since he came on board a couple years back, so stretching him out for another year is probably not worth the cash outlay necessary to keep him on board. However, if Randle stays on (and we think he probably will) then the Lakers can still avoid paying the league’s luxury tax or otherwise use the roughly $12.5 million that free agents like Randle would count against their remaining salary cap and pick up another free agent (presumably one that would turn out to be a better investment than the somewhat underperforming Deng ended up being).
However, if Los Angeles’ upper management could find a way to waive off Deng and make some room – say round about $35 million – they could easily sign on a highly experienced veteran player worth that kind of scratch. As of now, there are several free agents in the running who would probably jump at the chance to join LeBron as a newly minted member of the Lakers squad, among them Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson or Jimmy Butler – not to mention Kawhi Leonard. If the Lakers bring on Kahwi – as he has contended is certainly a key feature in his own personal playbook – they certainly do not have to now that they have gotten James, who is, frankly a much bigger catch, even though Leonard would surely not be missed if he at all could be – though ultimately it would come down to what other deals would need to be cut to snatch him up.
Why do we say that? Well, for starters, there are other excellent choices out there besides Leonard and the other aforementioned free agents. Secondly, even if Los Angeles had both Leonard and LeBron on hand they would still not be that likely to win the 2019 NBA Championship (though the team’s odds did shoot up massively after the past weekend’s announcement that they had signed LeBron. The very early futures odds on the coming championship favor the reigning champs – the Golden State Warriors – who have -110 odds to repeat with their third title win in four years’ time, though the Lakers are now sitting in second place on most betting boards. Bovada.lv, the online sports betting leader in sports betting states, for instance, lists Los Angeles with +350 odds to win the 2019 title now that LeBron will be joining the Lakers lineup, even if no other trades are made – such is the clout that King James brings with him to the team.
Nevertheless, if the Lakers hold onto their young talent and develop them alongside James, who, at age 33 is certainly no spring chicken but seems largely unaffected by age despite practically carrying the Cavaliers all by his lonesome in his most recent four years at Cleveland, then LA still has a chance to turn into something special again. It just probably won’t be in time for 2019, leaving the Warriors to rack up yet another NBA championship win – establishing themselves as a member of the hallowed pantheon of truly great NBA legacy franchises.
So just how good can the Lakers expect to be now that they have brought on LeBron? Most analytics data available points to Los Angeles being capable of winning roughly 52 games in the upcoming season, making the team at least capable of vying for a podium spot in the league’s Western Conference, though there is very little chance that they would be able to surmount even second place to get a shot at the much vaunted (and rightly esteemed) Golden State Warriors. However, there is always the possibility that the Lakers could do even better than that – or possible, though less likely, worse: it all comes down, as before, to how James fares as he looks to build up his rapport with a team comprised largely of young guns.
LA probably does not have the bench to win a championship next year or even in the next two years, and that is regardless of whether or not they pick up some more elite players in free agency, but it is certainly within the realm of possibility for the Lakers to once again stand atop the league’s dog pile by the end of LeBron’s (first?) contract with them. Still, it is our belief that the team should not specifically try to leverage James’ limelight into winning a championship within that four-year time span. The bigger picture goal should be to build its younger talent and make smart acquisitions all along until today’s inexperienced players are tomorrow’s superstars.
Besides, we hear that LeBron has ambitions of playing alongside his now 13-year-old son LeBron Jr. (Bronny to his family and friends), so there is always a chance that James can hang on in LA until then. At the very least he could help to turn the team into something that can stand on its own again – but that would be quite unlike his town-hopping, team-skipping, trophy-hunting style so far. Maybe, for the good of the team (and possibly his oldest boy) he could let his own advancing age mellow him out somewhat.
Just for the record, there are no betting odds available on that last possible outcome.