CLEVELAND — The most discussed topic among the media and team staff during All-Star weekend? Well, after the freezing temperatures…
LeBron James and Lakers GM Rob Pelinka.
As in, LeBron is back to his passive-aggressive ways to assert his will on a franchise, and Pelinka is in his crosshairs. Reports surfaced previously LeBron (and Anthony Davis) were not on board with the Lakers’ decision to stand pat at the trade deadline.
Then LeBron turned heads on All-Star Saturday when he spun a softball question about Thunder rookie Josh Giddey into a passive-aggressive dig at Pelinka.
“The MVP over there is [Thunder president] Sam Presti. He the MVP,” LeBron said. “Josh Giddey is great. Sam Presti, I don’t understand, his eye for talent. He drafted KD [Kevin Durant], Russ [Westbrook], Jeff Green, Serge Ibaka, Reggie Jackson, Josh Giddey and the list goes on and on and on. This guy is pretty damn good.”
Then LeBron told The Athletic he would not close the door on a return to the Cavaliers in a couple of years.
All this after LeBron Tweeted support for Los Angeles Rams GM Les Snead, who wore a shirt to the Rams’ Super Bowl Parade with his own face and the words “f*** them picks” (Snead traded a lot of future picks to go all-in on winning).
LEGEND! My type of guy!! https://t.co/QaHTlBAbJn
— LeBron James (@KingJames) February 17, 2022
LeBron is too measured and practiced with what he says publicly to suggest this is all a coincidence. He knows what he is doing. LeBron, of course, left himself plausible deniability, but there is no question he is frustrated with Pelinka and Laker management.
LeBron wanted Pelinka to trade Westbrook and the Lakers 2027 first-round pick for John Wall. As Eric Pincus points out at Bleacher Report, Wall is not-so-coincidentally a Klutch client (the same agency that reps LeBron, Davis, Talen Horton-Tucker, Kendrick Nunn, and a number of former Lakers). Pincus notes that is Klutch who is mad at Pelinka.
To be clear, it was LeBron and Davis who pushed for the Lakers to go all-in on Westbrook, pivoting away from a smaller trade for the Kings’ Buddy Hield. That trade with Sacramento would have let Los Angeles keep some of its depth, assembling a roster in the mold of the one that won the title in the bubble (shooing and defense surrounded LeBron and Davis, who have to play like top-five players in the league for that to work).
From a basketball perspective, the Lakers did the right thing not trading for Wall. He is, at best, a marginal upgrade over Westbrook at this point in their careers (he’s a better defender and shooter, but he was less efficient than Westbrook the last season both played, and Wall has not set foot on a court this year). Wall would not have salvaged this season for these Lakers. And, it would have cost Los Angeles a 2027 pick it can trade this offseason (along with their 2029 pick, one not available at the deadline) for a player who actually will make a difference.
But the Lakers also have to keep LeBron happy. He is eligible for a two-year, $97.1 million contract extension this summer, Pincus notes, although it has long been assumed around the league he would extend for one season with the Lakers then play with his son Bronny for a final season. LeBron said Saturday he would close his career wherever Bronny plays.
(As a side note, a week before coming to Cleveland I texted two people I trust as scouts and talent evaluators to get a read on Bronny as a player. One said he is a good D-1 college-level player but not an NBA guy, and the other said he might be a late second-round pick player as things stand now. Bronny is a high school junior, it is too early to say with certainty how good he could ultimately be, and he already is good enough to have major colleges interested; he’s just not the lottery level of player some fans think him to be.)
The conventional wisdom around the league has been that LeBron would extend for one year with the Lakers, then read the landscape in 2024 when Bronny could enter the NBA. But if this becomes a power struggle between LeBron and Pelinka, with Jeanie Buss stuck in the middle, all bets are off. If LeBron does not sign an extension, he can be a free agent in 2023. That would be tough for the Lakers.
LeBron traditionally gets what he wants within every franchise outside Miami, but the Lakers have some decisions to make.