ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith added a bit of a new wrinkle to the LeBron James free agency rumors by reporting King James is recruiting Kevin Durant to join him on the Lakers. This time of year, it is important for fans to ask themselves two simple questions when you hear a free agent rumor. First, could the rumor work within the constraints of the NBA salary cap. Secondly, is it conceivable it could happen, based on all we know about the players involved.
Smith reported James “texted” Durant about joining him in Los Angeles, but also noted Durant was not interested. While it does not appear likely to happen, let’s look at whether the idea is even feasible.
Let’s start with the logistical part of the equation first. According to Real GM’s Keith Smith’s cap projections, the Lakers will have about $58.4 million of cap space, the most of any team in the NBA. According to Hoops Rumors, the projected max salary for the 2018-19 season is $35.3 million. While the Lakers do not have enough cap space to sign both players to max contracts outright, they could likely make it work by having one of the players agree to a sign-and-trade. Even with all their cap space, the Lakers are well below the more than $70 million needed to sign two max players outright. However, if the NBA has taught us anything in recent years, it’s that the players have more power than ever. If Durant and James decide they want to play together, they are going to find a way to make it happen.
Here is what the Lakers roster would look like, as of now, if the two players were to agree to terms with the Lakers. The team would likely be able to add a few veteran players on minimum contracts as well. The positions are less important than the players. Both Durant and James are capable of playing multiple positions.
Lakers Roster & Starting Lineup with LeBron James & Kevin Durant
C- Kyle Kuzma, Mo Wagner, Thomas Bryant, Ivica Zubac
PF- Kevin Durant, Isaac Bonga
SF- Brandon Ingram, Luol Deng, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk
SG- LeBron James, Josh Hart,
PG- Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso, Tyler Ennis
Lakers free agents: Brook Lopez (UFA), Julius Randle (RFA), Channing Frye (UFA), Travis Wear (RFA), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (UFA), Andre Ingram (RFA), Gary Payton II (RFA), Isaiah Thomas (UFA)
If the Lakers were to sign two max players like James and Durant, they would likely have to part with most, if not all, of their free agents. The Lakers would look to fill out their roster with veterans willing to sign for the minimum in exchange for having a chance to compete for a title.
While that answers the logistical question, the next thing to consider is whether this idea is feasible. This is where Durant and James to Los Angeles becomes a lot less likely. Durant is technically a free agent, but all indications are Durant wants to stay with the Warriors. ESPN’s Rachel Nichols reported that Durant has essentially committed to the Warriors.
“I’m planning on staying with the Warriors, and we’ll figure the rest out,” Durant said, before adding that only the “small details” remained to be figured out.
Sure, there was the awkward joke Golden State GM Bob Myers made about Durant at the championship parade, but that is not enough to send Durant packing.
Durant has more help around him with the Warriors, and a chance to go for a three-peat next season. The only way the Lakers come into play is if the contract talks with the Warriors break down after Durant has agreed to take less money for two straight seasons to help the Warriors sign additional players. The other explanation would be if Durant really wants to play with James rather than the Warriors current roster. Durant did tell the USA Today that the money needed to be right, but the Warriors have indicated they are committed to giving Durant a raise.
“Yeah, yeah, I feel as though [will return to Golden State],” Durant told the USA Today. “Everything, the money and stuff that’s got to, the contract got to (be) worked out, but I plan on being here. I said that earlier this year. I didn’t plan on anything else. But this is the NBA, and anything can happen. And I know that anything can happen, (because) I’ve been a part of this league for so long now.”
There is no reason for James not to recruit the best players to come play with him, but at this stage of free agency the rumor is lofty, even if the Lakers could find a way to make it work under the cap. Unless Durant has a change of heart, it does not appear realistic that he would join James in Los Angeles.