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An adage as old as professional sports dictates that great players often make lousy coaches/general managers. If the current state of the Los Angeles Lakers is an indication, LeBron James and Anthony Davis might want to consider post-basketball careers that don’t involve the front office. The stars of LA’s 2020 NBA champions advocated strongly that the team trade for Russell Westbrook last summer.

Many questioned how Westbrook fit on the roster, particularly given the Lakers gave up three rotation regulars in the deal. The season has been the worst-case scenario: Westbrook struggling to find a comfort level in LA, while James and Davis missed significant time with injuries.

It’s not the first time James reportedly dabbled in personnel acquisition. Given how badly the Westbrook experience went off the rails, maybe GM James isn’t a role he should seek in the future.

LeBron James and the shadow GM reputation

LeBron James and Anthony Davis reportedly played significant roles in bringing Russell Westbrook to the Lakers. Maybe GM jobs aren't in their futures.
LeBron James and Anthony Davis reportedly played significant roles in bringing Russell Westbrook to the Lakers. Maybe GM jobs aren’t in their futures. | Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

During his second stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers, LeBron James developed a reputation for being the actual decision-maker for the franchise.

It’s a notion former general manager David Griffin, now president of basketball operations for the New Orleans Pelicans vehemently denied.

Cleveland played in four NBA Finals in four seasons and won the title in 2016. Did the four-time NBA MVP have veto power over personnel? That depends on whom you believe.

Another new Laker, Carmelo Anthony, said LeBron, not LA general manager Rob Pelinka, recruited him last summer to sign with the team. The link between the pair goes back to draft night in 2003 when James went first overall to Cleveland, and Anthony was the third overall pick of the Denver Nuggets.

Marc Stein reported on Substack that James and Anthony Davis drove the decision to pivot from acquiring sweet-shooting Buddy Hield in favor of Westbrook.

Davis doesn’t have the same reputation for demanding input in personnel matters. But he also pushed his way out of New Orleans shortly after Griffin arrived in the Big Easy because the franchise’s career scoring and rebound leader felt he hadn’t gotten enough help.

Anthony Davis makes it hard for the Lakers to undo the Westbrook deal

Because the Lakers surrendered much of its future draft capital in acquiring Anthony Davis to team with LeBron James, moving Westbrook is more problematic for Pelinka. The play of the 2016–17 NBA MVP  dictates that a team will want draft picks to take Westbrook. The earliest first-rounder the Lakers control is in 2027.

We get it. Superstars share their wish lists with the front office. The formula for James in winning his four championships in Miami, Cleveland, and LA is the same. Add superstars, lather, rinse, repeat. Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade joined him in Miami. The Cavaliers immediately traded for Kevin Love after signing LeBron.

In LA, Davis, Westbrook, and Anthony are there in large part due to the influence of James.

It points out the flaws when stars attempt to run teams. Are there exceptions? Indeed, Jerry West oversaw the most successful period in Lakers’ history. While Larry Bird didn’t bring the Indiana Pacers a championship, they competed for one during much of his tenure.

But where they succeeded, other superstar players failed spectacularly. Isiah Thomas wasn’t good starting up the Toronto Raptors in the 1990s. Someone held his beer as he demolished the New York Knicks after the turn of the century. Bill Russell was a disaster with the Sacramento Kings.

That’s not even getting into Michael Jordan’s track record as a draft manager. Exhibit A for the prosecution is Kwame Brown, and Adam Morrison is Exhibit B. That’s enough to convict the six-time NBA champion player.

Besides, James will almost certainly have a loftier position in mind.

LeBron James has the hallmarks of a future franchise governor

Given his lucrative off-the-court holdings and his gigantic NBA contracts, LeBron James has amassed a net worth of roughly $500 million, according to Celebrity Net Worth. His financial empire is still growing.

He fits the profile of a future franchise buyer. Jordan broke down the door for former players owning teams when he gained majority control of the Charlotte Hornets (then Bobcats) in 2010. James has done much in his career following Jordan’s path. It wouldn’t be a stunning development for him to own a team in the future.

Anthony Davis may not reach that level. The first pick in the 2012 NBA Draft reportedly has a net worth of $100 million. But he’s also a little less than nine years younger than James, so he’s got time on his side.

Should The King take the throne of an NBA franchise, the question becomes whether he can resist the urge to micromanage. Does he assemble a front office he trusts? Or does James go down Jerry Jones’s path with the Dallas Cowboys?

That could go badly for LeBron James. If he looked at the Lakers last summer and believed Westbrook was a better addition than Hield, it doesn’t scream future GM.

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