Undone by injuries, poor chemistry and a flawed roster of has-beens summoned to Los Angeles for “one last job,” the Lakers’ 2021-22 season was a catastrophe in every sense, effectively ending the team’s title window. It stands to reason that, with better injury luck and a trade or two (getting Russell Westbrook’s albatross contract off the books would be a good start), the Lakers could return to relevance as soon as next season. Of course, LeBron James isn’t getting any younger and Anthony Davis, coming off another injury-plagued season, has become increasingly hard to rely on.
It all paints a gloomy picture for a team that, aside from their championship in 2020 (which came under unusual circumstances due to the COVID pandemic), has largely fallen short of expectations. L.A. might not even be the best team in their building anymore with the Clippers likely to get a boost from the return of two-time Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard next season.
After finishing an embarrassing 16 games under .500 (33-49), the Lakers could soon be headed for an overhaul with sweeping changes all but certain this offseason. Maintaining the status quo would be a recipe for disaster, which leaves the Lakers two options—mortgage the future for a third star to pair with James and Davis or blow it all up, following the blueprint laid out by Houston and Oklahoma City, who underwent similar scorched-earth teardowns after losing James Harden and Russell Westbrook, respectively.
It’s an impossible decision, but logic suggests the Lakers, with no coach to speak of and a shadow GM (longtime LeBron confidante Rich Paul) pulling the strings, are closer to bottoming out than raising an 18th championship banner. With that in mind, Stephen A. Smith thinks it’s time the Lakers give serious consideration to jettisoning their biggest asset.
“I think the Los Angeles Lakers should strongly consider trading LeBron James,” the longtime ESPN personality opined on First Take. “He’s the only person that has extreme value. You’ll never get equitable compensation with his greatness. But it’s the only chance you have to be immediately respectable if you’re the Los Angeles Lakers.”
Even at 37, James would still command multiple first-round picks and a package of stars that could help the rebuilding Lakers get back on their feet. However unlikely, Smith thinks gauging James’ trade market is an avenue worth exploring, especially considering how little interest teams have in Davis right now. “I know for a fact from numerous executives I’ve spoken to you can’t get much value for Anthony Davis,” reports Smith. “He’s perpetually injured and not reliable health-wise.”
Along with Davis’ durability woes, the Lakers must also consider their path through the Western Conference, a gauntlet that could be as many as seven teams deep next season. “You’ve got Phoenix, they ain’t going nowhere. You got Golden State. They’re going to be here for a while. We got Dallas with Luka [Doncic] leading the way. Jason Kidd doing an outstanding job, I think they’re a piece from being legit title contenders. Kawhi and Paul George will be back. Minnesota is on the rise. Memphis is here. I’m giving you six teams in the Western Conference!” outlined Smith. “And let me not forget New Orleans. If Zion Williamson is healthy what New Orleans could potentially do. We got all that going on. If you’re the Lakers, where are you going? You got nothing.”
The prospect of James forcing his way out of Los Angeles isn’t as farfetched as it would have seemed a few years ago, though his decision to join the Lakers in free agency was seen as a conscious choice, motivated as much by off-court pursuits as his desire to win another championship. Murky as his future may be, we do know that James, when healthy, is still an absolute behemoth of a basketball player, averaging over 30 points per game (his most since 2008) this past season.
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