HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — It seems straight out of the realm of the truly ridiculous, we know. We haven’t even seen these new-look Los Angeles Lakers, with Dwight Howard and Steve Nash in the fold with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace. Yet the rumblings about the Lakers’ next big move are already cranking up.
That next big move being the possible pursuit and acquisition of one LeBron Raymone James in free agency in 2014, per a report from Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com.
Now before you go over the edge, throwing stuff at your computer and knocking over trash cans, follow the logic on this thing:
Several teams’ executives have told ESPN.com they believe the Lakers are positioning themselves to make a run at LeBron James in 2014, when the Miami Heat star can choose to become a free agent.
… In the wake of the Howard trade, much as been made of the massive luxury-tax bill the Lakers are facing next season if they’re able to re-sign the big man. ESPN.com salary cap expert Larry Coon has estimated the Lakers could be on the hook for as much as $85 million just in taxes in 2013-14.
But look a little further, to that 2014-15 season, and you’ll see something else: The Lakers’ projected payroll is almost completely clear. Only Nash is signed for that season, at $9.7 million, though the Lakers will also be paying about $20 million to Howard if they can re-sign him this coming summer.
In July 2013, Bryant’s $30.4 million, Pau Gasol’s $19.2 million, Metta World Peace’s $7.7 million, Steve Blake‘s $4 million and Jordan Hill’s $3.5 million will come off the books. There likely won’t even be any first-round draft picks filling up the cap, either, as the Lakers have already traded their 2013 first-round pick to Phoenix in the Nash deal.
Opposing teams that are making their own long-range free agency plans think they see the Lakers’ plan coming into focus. As it stands, L.A. will have enough cap space to add a superstar like James.
“It’s not a mistake that all those deals end the same year Kobe’s does. They have probably been planning for their next phase for a while,” said one general manager. “The Busses and [Lakers GM] Mitch [Kupchak] are always thinking about the next big deal.”
There is a reason the Lakers have remained relevant in the championship conversation more consistently than any other team, including the Boston Celtics, the past 40 years.
What looks ridiculous to the naked eye looks completely different through those purple and gold tinted lenses worn by the Lakers’ brass. Think about it: They snagged Shaquille O’Neal in the prime of his career, stole Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies in the prime of his career and just finished up a summer when they did the unthinkable and brought both Nash (a sworn enemy of the Lakers for years while he was in both Dallas and Phoenix) and Howard (whose initial stance during his trade demand fiasco/saga was basically “anybody but the Lakers”) to Hollywood.
It’s not completely out of the realm of possibility to believe that James could indeed be their target in 2014, provided he chooses to terminate his current deal then or even in 2015, and could be swayed to join the party after possibly winning another title or two in Miami.
There are plenty of league executives who feel that it’s reasonable to assume that LeBron, who recently changed agents, will opt-out in 2014. More from that ESPN.com report:
“The agent part probably doesn’t matter. LeBron is the best player in the league and he’s making less than the max, so unless he’s seriously hurt he’s going to opt out in 2014, if only because I would assume he wants and deserves to get a true max,” said one league executive. “Even if the Heat win the next two titles there’s a feeling that LeBron is going to become a free agent in two years no matter what.”
If you feel a little bit twisted, speaking about fantasy basketball scenarios out loud, you can imagine how this is all playing out for James right now in Miami. Heat fans certainly don’t want to hear about this, never mind that it’s strictly a theory being floated by anonymous league executives.
But if we’ve learned anything from James and all that he’s been through the past three years, dating back to his final season in Cleveland, it’s that Kevin Garnett was spot on when he said, “anything’s possible.” Competitors have a way of becoming allies in today’s NBA. And unlike Bryant, who has spent much of his career as a relative loner, James claims friends everywhere.
He’s already teamed up with two of them (Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh) in Miami with smashing results. With his best friend in the league, Clippers star Chris Paul, headed for the deep end of the free agent waters in 2013 along with Howard, things could get extremely interesting for several players and franchises between now and the potential LeBron-free agent-palooza in 2014.
Say whatever you want about all of the craziness. The tickets for the mega team the Lakers (or possibly the Clippers or someone else … ?) have in mind would sell out in seconds.