Stephen A. Smith: Lakers Should Trade LeBron James in Offseason, Team 'Going Nowhere'

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVMay 4, 2022

CLEVELAND, OH - MARCH 21: LeBron James #6 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks on before the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on March 21, 2022 at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)
David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

Stephen A. Smith has a modest proposal for the Los Angeles Lakers: Trade LeBron James.

Smith said Wednesday on First Take that the Lakers “as presently constructed are going nowhere.” Because of that, he believes L.A. should weigh dealing the 18-time All-Star:

"I think the Los Angeles Lakers should strongly consider trading LeBron James. It's what I believe. Now, a lot of people are going to lose their minds because the brother is 37, in his 19th year and he just averaged 30 and all this other stuff. If the team was better, he'd have been the league MVP candidate without question. This is not throwing a speck of shade at LeBron James in case he's watching, which he'll try to deny it but he's watching. OK, I'm telling you right now, it's no shade at all. It's a testament to his greatness and it's a compliment to him."
First Take @FirstTake

.<a href="https://twitter.com/stephenasmith?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@stephenasmith</a> has a solution for the Lakers 👀 <br><br>“I think the Los Angeles Lakers should strongly consider trading LeBron James. That is what I believe.” <a href="https://t.co/CI3l7lAqJ7">pic.twitter.com/CI3l7lAqJ7</a>

Smith isn't the first person to put this idea forward. Bleacher Report's Eric Pincus was asking back in February whether the Lakers should jettison one of the greatest players of all time.

James is under contract for one more season. 

The 37-year-old told The Athletic's Jason Lloyd ahead of the All-Star Game that he might return to the Cleveland Cavaliers one day and wants to play with his son, Bronny, before he retires. There's no guarantee he finishes his career in L.A., and him leaving as a free agent in 2023 isn't implausible.

The dilemma for the Lakers is that running it back with James and Anthony Davis may not put them meaningfully closer to a championship than they were this year.

Davis missed 42 games in 2021-22, continuing a wider trend for the injury-prone star. When he did play, many felt his overall contributions were lacking given his immense talent.

James, meanwhile, is looking increasingly mortal. He averaged 30.3 points, 8.2 rebounds and 6.2 assists but was absent for 26 games. Since signing with the Lakers, he has missed 84 contests—effectively an entire season.

General manager Rob Pelinka doesn't have a clear path to making significant upgrades, either.

Russell Westbrook is a depressed asset because of his declining play and $47.1 million player option. Beyond that, the Lakers sacrificed most of their best trade assets in order to land Davis and then Westbrook.

Trading a legend such as James is anathema to the organization's overall approach. The Lakers have always courted major stars—not sent them away. Shaquille O'Neal was one of the few exceptions, but that was because L.A. was left with no other choice; it was either going to be Shaq or Kobe Bryant.

Absent a breakdown in James' relationship with Davis or a wider schism with the organization, it's difficult to see Pelinka throwing in the towel completely on a championship pursuit.