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All Ball Sports: To Trade or Not to Trade? Not really an option

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by Paul Teetor

Nine months ago, as it became clear the Lakers weren’t going to make the playoffs for the second time in LeBron James’ first four years here, All Ball wrote a column urging the Lakers to trade LeBron. .

This column received more responses – ranging from “you’re so right” to “you’re so crazy” – than anything written before or since in this space.

This week, to our amazement, LeBron seemed to agree with us.

“I don’t want to end my career playing at this level from a team perspective,” he said after another disheartening loss, this time to the Miami Heat on Wednesday night. “Playing basketball at this level just to play basketball is not in my DNA.”
Then he drove in his nail. And remember, LeBron doesn’t say anything publicly without weighing its impact: “I know what else I can bring to any ball club with the right parts.”

In other words, he was as clear as he could without shouting “Help me or get me out of here!” that he wants to be part of a team capable of winning an NBA championship.

And right now, it’s not the Lakers.

Not even close.

Our argument for trading it last April was the same as our argument for trading it today. The only thing that’s changed is that LeBron warned the Lakers that they better bring in guys good enough to help him win a title or send him somewhere else where he can win a title with a new team.

Despite all the upbeat chatter coming from the Lakers front office and their cheerleaders in the mainstream media, the Lakers are going nowhere in terms of a true championship contender. They currently sit in 13th place in the 15-team Western Division, with a 14-21 record.

When you put the Lakers’ roster under a microscope, Lebron is the only marketable asset that could bring back the kind of high draft picks they desperately need to begin their long-awaited rebuild.

There are several teams that would instantly become legitimate championship contenders — Philadelphia, Cleveland, Orlando, Denver — by adding LeBron to their roster and dropping a bunch of draft picks and a few non-star players.

Given that the Lakers have already traded all of their first-round picks this decade, except for the 2027 and 2029 picks, they desperately need to replace the picks they traded to bring Anthony Davis back from the New Orleans in the summer of 2019.

Davis himself is of no real commercial value anymore as he is apparently still injured. He has missed more than half of Lakers games since the 2020 season and is currently out “indefinitely” with a foot injury. TNT analyst Charles Barkley pinpointed the problem with Davis perfectly when he gave him the nickname “Street Clothes” because he always seems to watch Lakers games from the bench while wearing ripped jeans, a hoodie and a listless scowl.

And of course, no team is willing to pay Russell Westbrook — their so-called “third star” — more than the league’s minimum wage, and certainly not the insane $47 million the Lakers are paying him this year. It is untradeable without the two draft picks as a sweetener.

The alternative to a blockbuster trade with LeBron: stay with LeBron for the next two years of his contract and a replay of the last years of Kobe Bryant’s experience. At the time, all eyes were on Kobe as he set all sorts of career records and found himself the fourth leading scorer in NBA history. Never mind that the team itself was awful and didn’t even make the playoffs in its last four years in a purple and gold uniform. Come see the Kobe show.

LeBron is now on track to overtake Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the league’s all-time leading scorer over the next few months, and the Lakers didn’t miss an opportunity to make the buzz on this big event that looms on the horizon.

But if and when that happens, it will set off a 24-hour media blitz, and then the Lakers will return to their usual formula: one step forward and two steps back.

Indeed, owner Jeannie Buss, general manager Rob Pelinka, “consultants” Kurt and Linda Rambis and the rest of the clown car crew that is bringing the Lakers down seem content with the status quo – or maybe are they simply paralyzed by inaction – and show no signs of meaningful change.

They can’t get serious help for LeBron as other teams demand one or both of the 2027 and 2029 first-round picks in order to take on Westbrook’s hideous contract and hideous play in exchange for a good player.

So far, they’ve refused to wrap those two draft picks with Westbrook despite LeBron and his agent, Rich Paul, demanding they do so.

That’s why LeBron’s outburst this week was so significant: He’s finally saying publicly what he’s been saying privately since it became clear Westbrook’s trade was a disaster.

It was a horrific trade on two fronts: He dispatched their 2020 championship core – Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Montrezl Harrell – and he brought back an over-the-hill, petulant, titled Westbrook that single-handedly destroyed whatever chemistry the LeBron Lakers once had.

But it makes sense that the Lakers would finally say no to LeBron: He was the one who demanded they give up their future for Davis — which at least resulted in the 2020 Bubble-Pandemic Championship — and go out and get Westbrook.

Westbrook was so bad last year that new coach Darvin Ham eventually demoted him this season to bench team leader. Now, typical Lakers play goes like this: LeBron plays great in the first quarter, takes most of the shots, and leads his team to an early lead. Then Westbrook comes in and plays with LeBron for a few minutes before LeBron is substituted to rest.

Then Westbrook takes over, hogs the ball, continually rushes to the basket, takes any kind of crazy shot he wants, and the crowd watches as the early lead evaporates. Then LeBron comes back and the cycle begins again. And by the end of most games, LeBron is too tired to drag his team to the finish line.

As if to back up his statement that “I know what else I can bring to any ball club with the right parts,” LeBron stepped out two nights later on his 38th birthday and put on a show by scoring 47 points, grabbing 15 rebounds and distributing 11 assists. For at least one night, he played with the strength and energy of a 22-year-old LeBron. In one memorable play he attacked the basket, missed a return shot, fell out of bounds on his back, jumped up and in one motion beat everyone on the loose ball and hit a stick back when he was the victim of a fault. As the crowd went wild, he clapped on his chest, indicating that his heart and desire were still as big as they were at their peak.

After the game, he hinted that if the Lakers didn’t resolve this impossible situation – either by trading him or getting him some serious help – he could lose that kind of energy and desire, which is all. what the Lakers really have to offer in exchange for those $2,500 courtside seats.

“I’m a winner and I want to win…so we’ll see what happens and see how fresh my mind will stay over the next two years,” he said.

Sip!

It’s a threat the Lakers need to take seriously. So far, Jeannie, Rob, and company have remained silent after her latest outburst.

But the season is almost halfway over and silence won’t work, or stop LeBron from making a public trade request.

If this worst-case scenario happens, the Lakers will lose whatever leverage they still have to try to get a good return for LeBron, because the other teams will know the Lakers need to make a trade and they will surely put them down.

After all, LeBron is now 38 and not just another great player. When a team hires him, they face the same kind of problems the Lakers have had for nearly five years now: a guy demanding a say in team decisions, coming with an agent known as a high maintenance guy. , and is a ball-dominating striker who will take charge of the team’s attack no matter what the coach says.

There are only two options – trade it or keep it – and at this point they are both bad options.

That leaves only one smart game: start LeBron’s auction and hope a team is crazy enough to bid a basket of first-round pick bushels — you know, like the Lakers did in 2019. to get Anthony Davis.

Let the bidding begin. Contact: teetor.paul@gmail.com. Follow: @paulteetor. Emergency room


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