Sunday, June 26, 2022

Exclusive: NBA GM opens up on LeBron James’ future with the Lakers

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With LeBron James potentially becoming a free agent in 2023, speculation abounds about the superstar’s future with the Los Angeles Lakers. During his in-league talks, Heavy.com NBA insider Sean Deveney spoke to a Western Conference general manager who believes rumors that James has ousted the Lakers are exaggerated.

The league executive reacted strongly when asked if James could target a team like the Nets in free agency next offseason if it gave him the opportunity to team up with Kevin Durant. The front office person stressed it was a “huge, huge long shot” that James would not end his career as a Lakers player.

“There is no sign that LeBron plans to leave LA,” the Western Conference GM said. “That’s just, that’s where all his business ventures are, that’s where he wants to retire. It’s a huge long shot to think he won’t be with the Lakers when his career ends. But would he miss a chance to play with KD to end his career?

“They’re not great friends but they have a lot of respect for each other, they like each other, I think they realize they’ve both upped their levels because of the other guy. So if Brooklyn keeps its cap space open, depending on what happens to Kyrie (Irving, who has a player option), LeBron could have that option, go to Brooklyn and play there in 2023. But they could do it.

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James can officially end the rumors about his future by signing a contract extension with the Lakers this offseason. James could also play off his current contract to simply put pressure on the Lakers front office to turn the current roster into a contender once again.

The superstar famously signed one-year deals with the Cavaliers to put similar pressure on the Cleveland front office. The league executive’s strong redemptions belie what ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported earlier this offseason regarding James’ desire to remain with the Lakers.

“But I think I have to say two things that are very important here,” Windhorst remarked during a May 5, 2022 episode of “First Take.” “The first is that LeBron wants to be a Laker. Regardless of what he may have said in moments of frustration last year and regardless of his vision of playing with his son or one day retiring a Cavalier or whatever. LeBron wants to be a Laker. He wants to live in Los Angeles. He loves life in Los Angeles, his son Bronny is a senior this year in Sierra Canyon in the Valley. He wants to be able to participate and enjoy his senior season. He still believes he can take the Lakers to heights. He wants to be a Laker.”

So, if James has no plans to leave Los Angeles, could NBA legend somehow recruit Durant to the Lakers? Durant’s four-year, $194 million contract extension begins in 2022 and signs him to Brooklyn for the 2025-26 season. Kristian Winfield of the New York Daily News reported May 24 that Durant has treated the Nets’ front office with silence since their overwhelming first-round playoff elimination.

For the Lakers to have a chance at Durant, general manager Rob Pelinka would have to try and lure the Nets with Anthony Davis. The same NBA general manager admitted that this idea is likely to go a long way, especially given Davis’ status as a Klutch Sports customer. The Lakers would also need to look for Durant to force his way out of Brooklyn and there’s no sign the forward will do that, although he’s a bit touchy about Nets executives.

“Conversely, if Durant wants to go to the Lakers, that becomes more difficult,” the GM added. “He’s under contract until 2026 so you have to do a swap and the only thing they can do would be Anthony Davis for KD. I think LeBron feels some responsibility for bringing Davis to Los Angeles and he wants that to work, so there’s not much of a chance they would trade him. But if Davis gets to play with Kyrie, who he’s closely associated with, maybe that’ll change the math. It’s kind of an earthquake business and it’s a slim chance. But if Durant is really unlucky and can get them all on the same page, maybe it will work out for everyone. Never say never in this league.”

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