Towards the end of December, following the team’s fifth loss in six games, LeBron James sounded off on the state of the Lakers while back in Miami, a city where he won his first two NBA championships.
“I think about how much longer I’m going to play the game. I think about that I don’t want to finish my career playing at this level from a team aspect. I’ll still be able to compete for championships because I know what I can still bring to any ball club with the right pieces,” James said then.
And following yet another defeat in yet another historical individual night on Tuesday, James used similar phrasing during a postgame interview with the TNT studio crew in what will likely be his final television appearance ahead of the NBA trade deadline. James made it clear that he still feels like he can compete for championships, and reading between the lines, it’s hard not to draw the conclusion that he’s tweaking the Lakers, letting them know he is happy to potentially go elsewhere if they don’t feel the same way (emphasis mine):
“I know I can play a couple more years. The way I’m feeling, the way my body’s been reacting to me throughout the course of this season, I know I can play a couple more years. It’s all about my mind. If my mind is still into it, if I’m still motivated to go out and try to compete for championships. Because I feel like that’s what I can still do for any group of guys, for any franchise, I can go out there and still help win multiple championships, or win a championship. So that’s my mindset... If my mind is sharp and I feel motivated to go out and prepare myself every single day then I can continue to play this game.”
Was that intentional shade? Inadvertent? Just an indication of LeBron’s belief in himself? Watch the clip below and judge for yourself:
"It hasn't quite sunk in just yet...I know I can play a couple more years." pic.twitter.com/HJPoEtUVu8— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) February 8, 2023
This is the latest in a series of public cries for help James has issued this year, most recently with his both literal and figurative subtweets of the front office for not getting the Kyrie Irving trade he wanted so badly done. And maybe it’s related to James’ comments, and maybe it’s not, but the vibes are certainly getting weird in Los Angeles, less than two days out from the trade deadline:
Happened as Russ was subbed out during OKC free throws. Walked off the court very slowly and his teammates tried to dap him up. Instead he stayed standing basically as close to the baseline as possible without actually staying on the court. Then he and Handy exchanged words.— Cooper Halpern (@CooperHalpern) February 8, 2023
Something wasn’t right with my dawg tonight man pic.twitter.com/xeuWxIyMar— Chicago Finest (@OwnhimAD) February 8, 2023
Unfortunately for James, calling out the front office for his lack of help in an attempt to shame them into getting him more is about the extent of the 38-year-old’s power over his situation right now. By virtue of signing a two-year, $97.1 million extension with Lakers on Aug. 17, 2022, James is legally not allowed to be traded until Feb. 18, a date astute observers of the calendar will note is after Thursday, Feb. 9’s trade deadline.
So close your Fanspo tabs. For now.
Still, for as often as insiders report that there is no indication James would ever really want to leave Los Angeles — with Zach Lowe and Brian Windhorst of ESPN both recently saying as much on “The Lowe Post” this week — how much longer is this type of relationship really tenable? Is James so happy in Southern California that he’s going to just make not-so-subtly criticizing Rob Pelinka before and after the NBA trade deadline an annual tradition? This is the second deal season in a row where he’s been sniping at them like this by suggesting he could go elsewhere if they aren’t interested in improving.
At some point, you become The King Who Cried Trade Request.
So maybe all the vibes will shift on Thursday or before if the Lakers get James some more NBA players to play with, but if they decide this season isn’t worth saving (again) then it may be time to start the countdown clock to this offseason. Not just because this team as currently constructed has no real hope of competing for anything meaningful without real additions, but also because it might just be the time when LeBron — who will at that point be both trade eligible and one year out from a $50.6 million player option — could try and maneuver his way to a destination of his choosing via trade to chase those “multiple championships” he wants to motivate his mind so his body can follow.
So how happy is he really in Los Angeles? Barring a major overhaul in the next few days or this summer, the Lakers may just be set to find out.
For all the latest heading into the NBA trade deadline, check out our Silver Screen and Roll Lakers trade rumors tracker.