The Lakers have always been a star-driven franchise, and the brightest of them wield power. Magic Johnson got a coach fired and is rumored to have pushed for the Norm Nixon trade. The Lakers traded Shaquille O’Neal so they could keep franchise icon Kobe Bryant, and threw him a massive contract while he was still rehabbing his Achilles.
However, LeBron James may wield more power than any of them, as evidenced by his push for the Russell Westbrook trade. That has proven to be a disaster, and now LeBron is frustrated the Lakers didn’t throw good money after bad — or, in this case, trade a first-round pick after bad — to trade Westbrook for the marginal-at-best upgrade to John Wall.
Lakers GM Rob Pelinka wisely stood his ground, keeping his powder dry (and his draft pick) to take a shot at overhauling the roster this offseason. LeBron didn’t like it, and it led to a series of passive-aggressive comments — including the threat of returning to Cleveland, who may or may not want him — sending a message to Pelinka.
All that has ratcheted the tension up around the Lakers. There has been a string of reports about that tension, the latest comes from Bill Oram at The Athletic.
Because James and agent Rich Paul long grabbed hold of the Lakers organization and are now beginning to really squeeze.
The situation is tense enough that one source close to the Lakers likened it to the early days of a war.
So far, the Lakers haven’t shown a particular willingness to engage in battle with their superstar, with sources saying that Pelinka has insisted internally that there are no hard feelings between the two sides.
The Lakers head into this summer with a choice: Either trade away their 2027 and 2029 first-round draft picks and whatever else it takes to move on from Westbrook and completely overhaul the roster around LeBron and Anthony Davis (LeBron, Davis and agent Paul will have a say in how that is done, for better or worse).
Or trade LeBron.
The former is the more likely direction. LeBron said he moved to Los Angeles to close out his career here — it’s where his son Bronny is a high school basketball star, where his movie/television production company is located, where his post-playing life likely is located. LeBron isn’t trying to force his way out as much as force change. He is doing in Los Angeles what he did in Cleveland before, using his leverage to get win-now roster moves made, even if his track record as a GM is spotty.
LeBron, however, does not have the loyalty to the franchise that Kobe or Magic did — he will pack up and go, playing his final couple of seasons somewhere else if he feels that’s his best shot at another ring (and passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the all-time scoring list).
The hope that LeBron would pass the franchise torch to Davis and things would continue unimpeded for the Lakers is gone. If the Lakers trade LeBron it would mean going on the hunt for the next franchise icon star (and there are few of those out there and looking to move right now).
One way or another, it’s going to be a summer blockbuster in Los Angeles.