The silence from the Los Angeles Lakers — even after reportedly hiring their next head coach — is deafening, and the space where their own message could be relayed is instead being filled with the innumerable versions of the story outside sources are sharing. One such thing that has been the source of innumerable speculation is the relationship between those atop the organization and LeBron James.
There is no reason to believe this will happen yet, but James could theoretically be shipped anywhere, and according to Tom Haberstroh of NBC Sports, at least one NBA executive could see it happening, and even mentioned a specific destination:
It’s early in that process. Leonard’s shot just fell through the net. But one Western Conference executive brought up a name that could be a Simmons trade target: LeBron James.
“I think they very well might explore that,” said a rival executive of Philadelphia.
James doesn’t have a no-trade clause, but he shares the same Klutch Sports agent with Ben Simmons in Rich Paul. James has two seasons left on his deal before he can become a free agent. After a disastrous offseason in which their president of basketball operations abruptly resigned and they struck out on their top two head coaching targets in Monty Williams and Tyronn Lue, do the Los Angeles Lakers honestly believe they can put together a championship contender in the next two seasons?
Before we go any further down this rabbit hole, there are a few things we have to point out. First and foremost, this is a rival executive speculating about what another team could do. This isn’t that executive relaying stuff that he’s heard. This is a third party wondering aloud what might potentially happen.
Such an executive has incentive to throw this out there, too, by the way. As soon as the words “LeBron James” and “trade” are mentioned in the same sentence in an article by a reputable reporter, a million other articles will be launched for circulation purposes. Executives know this, and thus will sometimes try to use it to their advantage. In this case, it’s a rival of the Sixers, and what better to stir up a little chaos than speculating on the record (even anonymously) about Philly trading away one of its franchise players?
Haberstroh, to his credit, points out in the article that “there has been no indication” that Philadelphia is considering any such trade of Simmons, and by extension, the Lakers seem far enough removed from this that it would be hard to assume they’ve even discussed this, either.
With all that in mind, it’s also worth noting how little sense this would make for the Lakers even theoretically — on or off the court.
Let’s first focus on the basketball side of this.
Simmons is obviously a very talented and promising player. Defensively, he has the makings of a truly special presence, and even despite showing no interest in shooting outside of 10 feet, he still is a net-positive offensive player in most situations. Should he ever develop a jumper, he could be a transcendent talent, though at this point, it’s hard to see him going from utterly disinterested in shooting to even league-average as a shooter.
All that said, he doesn’t really fit with Lonzo Ball, and only kind of fits with Brandon Ingram. Trading either Ball or Ingram at this point is probably a nonstarter given their current injury statuses and overall value right now, so building a roster around Simmons becomes a tremendously difficult task.
Now let’s broaden our focus to off the court.
Do you honestly trust this current front office to build a roster and culture basically from the ground up? Do you think the Lakers as a brand could withstand the kind of reset that trading James would bring, or that Jeanie Buss or any of her siblings would be willing to find out if they can? Trading away LeBron would be essentially admitting that the organization was not ready for the expectations that come with him. It would be the absolute low-point in the history of the franchise after having fallen through rock bottom a few times merely in the last few years. Trading a player of James’ stature so unceremoniously just a year after he signed would also be a bad look to free agents, both this summer and in the future.
One would even imagine that if things got to that point, part of the reason behind trading James might be a desire to stop dealing with anyone in his camp, but there sits Rich Paul as Simmons’ agent, so this move wouldn’t even accomplish that.
Finally, in terms of cap management, Philadelphia trading for James and his $35 million salary is incredibly complicated, seeing as Simmons is only on the books for about $6 million.
Either Philly would have to get under the cap far enough to absorb James outright (basically by renouncing all of Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris and JJ Redick) or find a way to send enough money back to match James’ contract. And they don’t have enough such deals to make that work outside of Joel Embiid, who obviously wouldn’t be included alongside Simmons in basically any trade.
Basically, this rumor just doesn’t make any sense on really any logical level, even if some executive says they could see it. The Lakers couldn’t take the PR hit of trading James and, even if they were willing to, Philadelphia makes very little sense given their assets and cap situation. It’s a fun thought exercise, but doesn’t hold up to any real further thought.
Rumors aside, the Lakers and James have to figure out a way to work together, and quickly. This has been the case ever since James committed to playing for the Lakers for up to four years. There’s no easy way out of this situation for anyone, so the focus should be on making it work, rather than making it go away.