On Saturday, during an ESPN on ABC broadcast, former NBA coach and ESPN commentator Jeff Van Gundy unpromptedly floated the idea of the Los Angeles Lakers trading LeBron James.
At the time, it was brushed off as baseless speculation by Van Gundy and while that may still be true, it turns out that the Lakers may have actually contemplated trading James at one point in the season.
According to Ric Bucher of Bleacher Report, Lakers team president and controlling owner Jeanie Buss considered trading James during the Anthony Davis trade saga because of the assumption that James’ agent, Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, was leaking private and delicate information from within the organization:
The subject of moving James, however, was contemplated by the Lakers, a team source said, weeks before Van Gundy aired it. When rumors engulfed the team at the February trade deadline that it was willing to trade anyone other than James to acquire All-Star forward Anthony Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans, James’ agent, Rich Paul, was widely accused of spreading those rumors because Davis is also one of his clients. Paul denied to B/R that he leaked the Lakers’ interest in Davis, but Buss suspected otherwise and was furious. The idea of terminating the franchise’s relationship with Paul by moving James at least crossed Buss’ mind, the team source said, and Paul was made aware of that. That prompted Paul to reach out to Buss to clear the air, and whatever ill will existed supposedly dissipated. At the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference a few weeks later, Buss blamed the media for making the rumors public.
It’s worth noting that Buss has vehemently denied being involved with the basketball operations side of the organization in the past, so the idea that she would be the one to single-handedly end the LeBron James era in Los Angeles is a tough one to buy into. However, there have also been reports that Buss has privately advocated for Lakers head coach Luke Walton to keep his job, which — by definition — would make her involved in basketball operations.
It’s also worth questioning the source. Is Bucher someone in the national media that would reasonably have Lakers scoops? More so than Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports or Ramona Shelburne of ESPN? Remember, this is the same guy that was completely out of the loop during the Dwight Howard trade saga in 2012.
But what if this is true? What if the Lakers privately kicked around the idea of trading James?
If they did, it was likely only for a second.
Trading James a few months into his Lakers career would be laughably bad optics for the front office, who have promised the fanbase not one, but two superstar free agents within the next few years and have lost several promising young players for very little in that pursuit.
Moving on from James would also effectively end their pursuit of Davis because he and James share the same agent. Then again, would any superstar free agent want to play for the Lakers after a PR nightmare like that?
Trading James would have very little upside for the Lakers from a basketball standpoint, but it would also be career suicide for the front office, which was just revamped three years ago. It’s for that reason, and several others, that James will almost certainly see his contract out with the Lakers unless they come to an agreement that a trade would be mutually beneficial.
Just take a deep breath, look at some mock drafts and wait for the end of the season, guys. There’s just 15 games to go.