On Saturday night, LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers will be looking to send the Portland Trail Blazers — who are missing their star guard, Damian Lillard — home from the NBA playoffs. But according to the latest NBA trade rumors, in a different world, it could have been Lillard and James on the same side.
We’ve heard buzz about James and the Lakers wanting to add Lillard multiple times before, and there have been reports that the interest is at least somewhat mutual. The latest whispers come courtesy of Sam Amick of The Athletic, who writes that before the lakers got Anthony Davis, Lillard was one of their targets.
However, it seems like with Davis in tow and Lillard extended, that’s probably off the table now:
A source with knowledge of Lillard’s situation said there was Lakers interest in a superstar pairing with Lillard and LeBron James before the Davis deal went down in June 2019. What’s more, the source said there was a Brooklyn Nets scenario that never evolved which could have paired Kevin Durant with Lillard last summer if only he’d shown any interest (this was before Kyrie Irving’s inclusion had truly crystallized). Of course some of the game’s biggest stars, and/or the power brokers tied to them, have inquired about the possibility of Lillard pushing his way out to come join them.
All it would have taken is for Lillard to send up that bat signal signifying he was ready for a change, and his tale could have turned. But he never did. After he signed that four-year, $196 million supermax extension in June 2019, and considering his level of personal investment in the Trail Blazers organization, coach Terry Stotts and teammates like C.J. McCollum and Nurkic, there’s no sign of that changing anytime soon.
As Amick mentions, Lillard’s gargantuan extension likely takes him off the table for any team, much less the Lakers, who would have to trade basically everyone of value on their roster other than James and Davis just to match Lillard’s $31 million salary for next season, which would then likely require Portland to cut multiple incoming players. These two just don’t make much sense as trade partners, even if there was mutual interest (which there surely isn’t from Portland’s side, given the Lakers’ dearth of young prospects and picks).
Now, if Lillard desires a deal in a couple years and James has either retired or re-signed on a cheaper contract, maybe this is a situation where he could force his way to L.A. to pair with Davis. However, Amick’s story makes it clear he’s never really shown any inclination to do that, so this is probably all a non-starter.
Still, it’s interesting to think about how differently things could have gone in a different universe, and to wonder about what a James/Lillard pairing would have looked like. But given that the Lakers are probably about to knock out Lillard’s team fairly easily with the pairing they have, they probably don’t have any regrets about how things went in this reality.