When LeBron James joined the Los Angeles Lakers during NBA free agency in 2018, many fans expected the Lakers to become instant title contenders. Why would they think otherwise? James led his teams to eight consecutive NBA Finals (four in Miami, four in Cleveland), and his arrival out West should have put fear in the hearts of any team not named Golden State.
However, because of poor coaching, injuries to James and other key players, and a stacked Western Conference, the Lakers finished 12th and missed out on the playoffs.
The team fired coach Luke Walton at the end of the season, Magic Johnson abruptly quit without telling anyone, and Frank Vogel was named the new head coach. Many believe that LeBron will want out if things don’t improve for the 2019-20 season. We will look at all the possible scenarios for Los Angeles and determine whether we expect James to finish out his contract with the team.
A season to forget
By the time Christmas rolled around, the Lakers were sitting pretty with the No. 4 spot in the Western Conference and looking like a formidable challenger to the Warriors throne on top of the basketball world. But then James got hurt, followed by Lonzo Ball, and the slide towards the bottom of the conference started.
A proposed trade to acquire superstar big man Anthony Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans. Magic Johnson and the Lakers front office offered pretty much every piece of young talent on the roster, but New Orleans denied every offer. It looked like a great deal on both sides, and declining the deal ultimately cost former Pelicans GM Dell Demps his job.
Once players found out about the trade scenario, their play suffered and the Lakers finished 37-45, 11 games out of the final playoff spot.
Who could join LeBron James in Los Angeles?
Anthony Davis is viewed as the most likely target to join LeBron James in Los Angeles, but there are some prime free agents on the Lakers radar as well.
Kemba Walker, Klay Thompson, and Kawhi Leonard will all receive strong pitches from James and company. Each provides a unique style of play — and undeniable talent — that could help the Lakers get back to the playoffs.
We would love to see Leonard don the purple and gold, but our smart money is on Klay Thompson making the move. He is already one of the three or four best shooters in NBA history, and pairing him up with two dynamic passers in LeBron James and Lonzo Ball? Klay could end up with an MVP-caliber season when it’s all said and done.
What if it all goes wrong?
The worst-case scenario for the Lakers is they whiff on all the big name free agents, can’t trade for Anthony Davis, and make a pick at No. 4 that James doesn’t think will help the Lakers get back into the playoffs.
Earlier this season, TV analyst Jeff Van Gundy believed the Lakers should consider trading James for as much as possible.
What if James sees the writing on the wall and requests a trade? How would Los Angeles recover? What would they get in return? This is something Lakers fans don’t want to see happen, but once James has tuned out a coach or front office, it makes everything harder for the people around the franchise. That’s especially true for the young players, who already doubt their future with the team after being included in trade packages.
However, we don’t believe the worst-case scenario will happen. Between the draft, the trade market, and the NBA draft, the Lakers are sure to do something right that entices LeBron James to stay. We ultimately think something good will happen for the Lakers this offseason, and so we expect James to finish out his contract.