Why The Lakers Must Pursue LeBron James In Free Agency
Once the San Antonio Spurs exacted their revenge on the Miami Heat by defeating them in the NBA Finals to capture their fifth title in franchise history, the off-season officially began.
After suffering an embarrassing loss in five games, the Heat have plenty of questions facing them in regards to their roster going into next season. The most important one currently facing the team is whether or not LeBron James, along with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade will re-sign with the team after opting out of their contracts to become unrestricted free agents. As of right now, James is not scheduled to meet with any potential suitors, although his camp is fielding calls.
James reportedly wants a max contract from the Heat while Bosh is rumored to want around $15 million per season, which could make it difficult for the team to sign them both along with Wade and other talent to improve the roster from last season. If they are unable to achieve all of that, James may start meeting with representatives from other organizations. If he does, teams with an ample amount of salary cap space will be lining up for his services.
One of those teams of course, is the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Lakers currently have only Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Robert Sacre and seventh-overall pick Julius Randle under contract for next season, giving them enough cap space to offer a max contract if they so choose. They could create even more room if they elect to use the Stretch Provision on Nash’s contract, but that would mean that around three million dollars would count against them for the next few seasons, as opposed to the $9.7 million coming off the books entirely next summer. Another option would be to offload Nash’s contract to a team willing to take on that money for a season before it would come off their books.
A plan the Lakers are rumored to be pursuing is to add both James and Carmelo Anthony to the roster this summer. However, even if the team is unable to dump Nash’s contract in a trade, both players would need to sign for less than the maximum amount of money they could each receive. This could prove to be problematic as James seemingly has no desire to do so.
Los Angeles has also been reported to be stalling their coaching search in order to use it as a recruiting chip in free agency, giving a big name such as James or Anthony a say in who the next head coach will be.
If James starts meeting with other teams, the Lakers would be absolutely foolish not to pursue the two-time NBA champion. You could put him on virtually any team in the NBA, and his presence alone would make them a playoff team at the very least. In some cases, his addition would make a team an instant title contender. James is the best player on the planet right now and if you have an opportunity to go after the player that carries that title, you do it.
Los Angeles is currently caught in the crossroads of trying to win now in Kobe Bryant’s final years and building for a future after the Laker legend. James would be a rare solution that could help the team in both of those situations.
James is in the prime of his career at the age of 29 (He turns 30 in December), coming off a season where he averaged 27.1 points, 6.4 assists and 6.9 rebounds while shooting an astonishing 56.7 percent from the field. His field goal percentage has increased every season since his 2006-2007 campaign with the Cleveland Cavaliers. If the Lakers were able to land James in free agency, he would undoubtedly carry the torch once Bryant retires.
His age combined with his continuous rise in efficiency would make LeBron a wise investment not only for the Lakers, but any team on the market.
For example, if a team signed James to a deal similar to the four-year, 88 million dollar contract that Dwight Howard signed last summer with the Houston Rockets, they would be getting him while he is in his prime and the contract would end when he is just 33 years old. This would mean that if his production has declined by then due to age and mileage on his body, that said team would be able to move in a different direction without having to pay him a substantial amount during his down years.
Now, if James is still performing at an extremely high level at the end of his next contract, the team would have his Bird rights and would have the financial edge over teams trying to acquire him in free agency.
If the Lakers somehow manage to lure James to Los Angeles, by the time his first contract would be up, Bryant’s two-year, $48.5 million extension would no longer limit the team’s cap flexibility, thus making it easier to bolster the roster with talent around James after number 24 retires.
Fans and the media have created the Kobe-LeBron “rivalry” throughout the years, despite it carrying no merit. The two future Hall of Famers have tremendous respect for one another and are good friends off the court. Bryant’s scoring mentality combined with James’ playmaker approach leads some to believe that the duo could coexist, although that obviously would be a question mark if the two joined forces.
Even though signing James this summer would devour most of the Lakers’ salary cap space, a duo of him and Bryant would certainly be a major incentive for players to join them in purple and gold while taking a considerable pay cut. This has been the case in years past with teams signing quality role players who are hungry for a championship.
A one-two punch of Bryant and James would also relieve a lot of pressure that might be placed on the shoulders of the aforementioned Randle – making it easier for him to develop without being rushed.
The Lakers fan base as a whole seems relatively split on the idea of pursuing LeBron, with those against the idea being understandably partial to the Black Mamba.
James has always been despised by many Los Angeles fans. Whether it is due to his off-court antics such as “The Decision”, his “Not one, not two, not three, etc.” charade after signing with Miami or on-court trends of flopping or complaining about foul calls, Laker fans have never been fond of him.
However, a similar scenario faced the fan base back in 2009.
After it was determined the Lakers would not re-sign Trevor Ariza, the team turned its focus to acquiring Ron Artest, now known as Metta World Peace. This was two months after a seven-game series against the Rockets that saw Artest get in Bryant’s face, leading to his ejection from the game. This incident made him one of the most hated players in Laker land. Fast forward five years later and now Metta is one of the most beloved former players in recent memory to put on a Laker uniform.
The moral of the story is that the most important name resides on the front of the jersey, not on the back. If a James acquisition resulted in wins, all Laker fans would certainly learn to love him.
Although landing the four-time MVP via free agency is merely a pipe dream at this point, Mitch Kupchak, Jim Buss and company need to at least give it their best shot. In the end, you never know for sure until you try.
Lakers Mitch Kupchak On Coach Search And Free Agency