Phil Jackson’s reintroduction into the fold with the Lakers front office was one that largely came as a surprise, but was seen as relatively harmless. Even in his advisory role and even given his...checkered past as both a front office executive and in comments about LeBron James, surely he wouldn’t campaign for something like trading LeBron and keeping Russell Westbrook.
On Wednesday, LA Times beat reporter Bill Plaschke, who only recently sat down for an hours-long one-on-one interview with Lakers owner Jeanie Buss, kind-of sort-of reported that Jackson would prefer to trade LeBron and keep Westbrook during an appearance on Doug Gottlieb’s radio show.
“I’ve heard that Phil would like LeBron traded. I’ve just heard that but I’ve got nothing to back that up. No on-the-record stuff to back that up. I do know that Phil would like to keep Westbrook and try to make that work with him.”
Ah well, this is going great.
First, it has to be noted that Plaschke is a columnist and not a beat reporter and his lack of much actual reporting would indicate that. In general, he’s not someone with a reliable track record of reporting. That being said, there are also may not be anyone more entrenched in the Los Angeles media world than Plaschke. Most of what he says should be taken with a grain (or pound) of salt, but there are reasons it could potentially be accurate.
Plaschke noted in his interview that in his discussion with Jeanie, she pushed back against the mere idea of trading LeBron, so it certainly doesn’t feel like that is a remote possibility. He also said he believes the Lakers would keep Westbrook next season and would make it a requirement for the next head coach to make it work with Westbrook, LeBron and Anthony Davis.
Now, the rest of Plaschke’s 15-minute interview is chock full of eye-rolling takes. He notes that he doesn’t think the Lakers can win a title with LeBron and AD. If your first response to that is “Actually, they did win a title with them!” then you’ll be pleased to know Plaschke also called that championship a “tainted title” because it took place in the bubble.
He also advocated multiple times that the Lakers need to trade LeBron, stating that he has no connection to the city or its population and that he would have more value for the Lakers in a trade and what he could bring back in it versus actually suiting up in the purple and gold. In finishing up the interview, he talked about the power he thinks LeBron and Klutch Sports have on the franchise and notes that “Lakers fans have to hope Phil Jackson has more say going forward.”
Truly, it was a work of art from Plaschke, one of the original hot take artists. To have the efficiency to cram that many scalding takes into one 15-minute interview is a skill that only comes with years and years of practice and expertise. Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith should be studying this tape in the coming days.
None of his pseudo-reporting in which he hedged his bets feels like it carries all that much weight. In the interview Plaschke had with Jeanie, she stated a desire to make LeBron happy with the team the Lakers have and spoke about an excitement for him to chase Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time scoring record next season.
Prior to that interview, a report by Plaschke’s colleague Dan Woike of the LA Times completely shut down the idea that the Lakers would trade LeBron as well. Bill Oram and Jovan Buha of The Athletic seconded that report as well.
None of that sounds like a team or owner looking to trade LeBron.
As for the Westbrook aspect, a lot of this still feels like leveraging. The Lakers hold barely any of it when it comes to negotiations about trading the enigmatic point guard entering the last year of his deal. Ultimately, it still feels unlikely that the Lakers bring him back next season but a lot can unfold in the coming months.
But Lakers fans can take relative comfort in knowing that no matter what the next few months hold, it almost certainly will not include trading the greatest player of all time, no matter what Plaschke says or Phil Jackson wants.