The Los Angeles Lakers prepared for more than a year to make their pitch for LeBron James, carefully assembling a team to fit around him and shedding payroll to sign him to a mega contract.
Now, less than a full season into his tenure, Jeff Van Gundy thinks it’s already time to scrap the idea.
During a broadcast of the Lakers-Celtics game on Saturday, the former NBA coach turned analyst suggested that the Lakers trade James now, freeing up cap space to make a run at one of the big free agents that will be available this summer.
“You’ve got to get on the right timeline. I’m going to say — if I could trade him for the Clippers into cap space, which would give me a better chance to get Durant or Kawhi Leonard, would I not do that?” Van Gundy posed (via For The Win).
The idea was shot down by co-host Mark Jackson, but there are others suggesting that the LeBron James project in Los Angeles simply isn’t working. The Lakers have fallen apart since posting a 20-14 mark on Christmas Day, and a mix of injuries and poor performance have taken the team to the fringes of playoff contention. The team seems to have given up on the idea of contending, announcing that they would be shutting down Brandon Ingram after he suffered a blood clot and that LeBron would be resting more frequently including the second night of back-to-backs.
There are rumors that the team is racked with lockerroom issues, with one unnamed Western Conference executive telling Bleacher Report that James isn’t showing the leadership many had expected when the Lakers signed him last year.
“All of a sudden, I’m seeing a different LeBron. Dude, don’t do that; you’re hurting yourself,” the executive said.
“The best thing he can do is tell everybody, ‘My guys have been great, I can do better, and we need to continue to improve as a team.’ He hasn’t done that. Instead, he’s throwing people under the bus.”
But most rumors suggest the opposite — that the Lakers have plans to make moves building a title-contending team around LeBron James. The team is reportedly targeting Anthony Davis and was involved in discussions for a potential trade ahead of this year’s trade deadline. Celtics Wire suggested that the Lakers could be targeting Kyrie Irving, and Bleacher Report noted that Damian Lillard or Kevin Love could be offseason targets as well.