Lakers Rumors: LA Front-Runner for LeBron James If He Leaves Cavs as Free Agent

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistOctober 27, 2017

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 19: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers heads out to the court before the game against the Los Angeles Lakers on March 19, 2017 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. 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 2016 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Stop me if you've heard this one before: LeBron James may head to the Los Angeles Lakers in free agency after the 2017-18 season. 

It was a rumor that made the rounds before the season began, per Bleacher Report's Ric Bucher, and it's one that continues to linger.

Maybe it lingers because James is the biggest name in basketball and the Lakers are the game's most marketable franchise, and there is logic to a potential marriage between the two, especially given James' aspirations in the entertainment world.

Maybe it lingers because James is leveraging the buzzworthy Lakers to reinforce his value to the Cavaliers, a subtle reminder that he could always depart if the team goes in a direction he doesn't like.

Maybe it lingers simply because James indeed plans to join the Lakers after the season.

Or maybe it lingers because the Lakers are leaking the rumors, hoping to will the marriage into existence by borrowing the power-of-suggestion tactics of omnipresent sports dad LaVar Ball.

Regardless, it lingers. During a media roundtable discussing James' future, organized by Richard Deitsch of SI.com, B/R's Howard Beck reaffirmed that the James to L.A. buzz has legs:

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"I do believe, based on people I've spoken with in the last six months, that there's a reasonable chance he leaves Cleveland again. I've had team executives swear—as long ago as May—that LeBron's departure was a near certainty. The general belief around the league is that, if he does leave, he'll land with the Lakers. How much of that is belief/speculation vs. inside knowledge is hard to say. It's a gossipy league. Sometimes the gossip is accurate (hello, Paul George) and sometimes not. LeBron is a complex guy. I'm not about to predict his next move."

Michael Lee of Yahoo Sports added:

"I know everybody assumes that he’s going to Los Angeles to play for the Lakers and start preparing himself for life after basketball by focusing on his business interests in television and film. Some have already called it a foregone conclusion but I still think a lot has to fall in place for that to happen."

So, what would need to happen?

Well, for starters, landing James will require the Lakers to bring aboard at least one more high-profile free agent (hello again, Paul George). During the SI.com roundtable, Candace Buckner of the Washington Post predicted that the trio of James, George and DeMarcus Cousins would all join the Lakers by next season.

But quite a bit has to transpire for that to occur.

First, James has to believe in Luke Walton as a coach and the Lakers as an organization. He has to be OK going from a veteran supporting cast in Cleveland to a younger one in Los Angeles that would feature a slew of younger players like Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, etc.

Second, James has to be willing to take the publicity hit that would inevitably come from leaving the Cavaliers a second time. He assuredly would handle it better than the ill-fated and ill-designed "Decision," but there will also be videos of fans burning their hard-earned money in the form of LeBron jerseys. 

Plus, imagine if the Cavaliers win another title this year. Would James walk away from a title-winning team?

Maybe, but surely winning a second title in three years would give him pause. Well, unless he has such a powerful aversion to Dan Gilbert—and who could blame him if he did?—that winning isn't enough of a deodorant to cover up his revulsion for ownership.

Third, James has to assemble a crew of superstars to join him in L.A. As Lee noted, George may end up loving his time with Russell Westbrook and decide to stay in Oklahoma City. Cousins would be crazy to pass up the opportunity to play with James, but if he and Anthony Davis make a run to the postseason this year, maybe he sticks with the New Orleans Pelicans.

Chris Paul wouldn't make much sense with Ball already at point guard. Carmelo Anthony could exercise his early termination option, though he may find himself in the same boat as George and decide to stay in OKC. 

There's no guarantee the Lakers will be able to land the sort of superstar or superstars they need to entice James to head west.

And finally, if the Lakers are going to splash for two or three big-time free agents, they'll need to rid themselves of big cap hits like Luol Deng (scheduled to make $18 million next year, per Spotrac.com) and Jordan Clarkson ($12.5 million). They'd also probably need to wave goodbye to at least one of Julius Randle, Brook Lopez and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. The Lakers are going to have to get creative on the cap-clearing front.

Make no mistake about it—the Lakers are gunning for next summer. Consider the following exchange between Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and Fox Sports baseball analyst David Ortiz before Game 2 of the World Series (h/t Dan Devine of Ball Don't Lie):

"'This is between you and me,' Ortiz said, leaning in close to Johnson. 'Nobody's watching. Nobody needs to know. What is it going to take to bring LeBron to the Lakers?'

"Cue great heaping peals of laughter.

"'I'll pay the fine!' Ortiz yelled. 'I'll pay the fine!'

"'You know what? We're trying to build a championship team with the Lakers,' Johnson said. 'And hopefully, next summer, we'll be in line to sign free agents. How about that?'"

But there are a lot of moving pieces here. If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes an entire league to move a LeBron. The reverberations of any decision James' makes literally impacts the entire NBA. Heck, it impacts local economies.

Likewise, the decisions of other players in free agency could de-incentivize him to make the move to L.A. And without knowing precisely what is in James' mind, it's impossible to know what factors he's weighing and prioritizing himself.

After all, he could decide to assemble a superteam on an organization that—gasp!—isn't the Lakers. There is no certainty here.

Well, except that the rumors will linger. They always do.