Most reports and speculation about the Los Angeles Lakers’ free agency plans for next summer have painted their efforts to clear up two max salary slots as an effort to entice LeBron James and Paul George to team up in purple and gold, but it could be a different Southern California native currently on the Oklahoma City Thunder roster that James wants to join him in L.A.
According to Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report, “whispers around the NBA suggest James would love to team up with (Russell Westbrook).” The reigning MVP could be an unrestricted free agent next summer should he not agree to an extension with the Thunder.
James and Westbrook would be one of the most athletically gifted and physically imposing tandems in NBA history, but James (and Lakers fans) also might not want to get too attached to the idea of the two wearing the same uniform, because Pincus also reports that “various NBA executives believe Westbrook will eventually sign his deal with the Thunder.”
If Westbrook isn’t actually available, the Lakers could still have their “fallback” option of James and George, which would be one of the best back-up plans in NBA history. Still, if those executives are wrong, and James and Westbrook really are an option, it’s pretty incredible to imagine the two of them on the same team, and it’s even more interesting that James is interested in teaming up for a few reasons.
For one, James just got out of a partnership with Kyrie Irving, who has reportedly frustrated James in the past with his ball-dominant tendencies. Westbrook is a far better player than Irving right now, but he’s also not necessarily shy about jacking his own shots up, but maybe James is less adverse to the idea of playing with someone like that as he ages and can’t carry as heavy of a burden.
The other reason a James-Westbrook one-two punch is so interesting is because it flies in the face of modern ideas of spacing and the necessity of three-point shooting. Neither James nor Westbrook are great floor spacers, and while both are obviously awesome basketball players, the two of them sharing the floor would necessitate above-average shooting ability from pretty much every other player on the floor in a similar way that the James and Dwyane Wade tandem did during their Miami HEAT heyday.
The Lakers are obviously a long way of from having to concern themselves about those schematic problems, but it makes James’ reported interest in Westbrook fascinating to think about.
Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here, or listen to how the Lakers could clear enough cap space to make LeBron/Westbrook happen from Pincus himself below), and you can follow him on Twitter at @hmfaigen.