If you’re a general NBA fan, it would be a dream scenario—two of the league’s best players, both excellent passers as well as scorers, teamed up side-by-side, one entering the prime of his career, one entering his twilight. If you’re a Lakers fan, though, it could be something of a nightmare.
That would be LeBron James getting his wish and playing alongside Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic—in Dallas, that is.
It is a longshot, but with a decision on a contract extension looming for James next month, the Lakers could be looking at an awkward upcoming year. If James does not sign on to stay with the Lakers, he can be a free agent the following summer, with several teams projected to have available cap space.
The Mavericks could be one of them, though they would not have nearly enough room to sign a star like James without finding teams to take the contracts of Tim Hardaway Jr. and Davis Bertans, both of which would be difficult to move, for expiring deals.
But there is another possibility, as speculated upon by Mavs writers Dalton Trigg and Grant Afseth at Si.com: A trade of James to the Mavericks, which would only be a real possibility if James insists on playing with Doncic.
As they wrote, “If LeBron James really wants to play with Luka Doncic, and for Jason Kidd and the Dallas Mavericks, GM Nico Harrison will find a way to get it done. The biggest hurdle is confirming whether that’s something James truly wants or not.”
Do the Mavs Have a Path to a LeBron Trade?
Of course, from the Lakers’ perspective, that is not the biggest hurdle at all. The biggest hurdle in getting James to Dallas would be constructing a deal that would be remotely acceptable to L.A. and that looks downright impossible.
The Mavs can send picks to the Lakers, but not until 2025 at the earliest under NBA rules, and could offer 2027 and 2029, too. Other than that, there is little on the Mavericks roster that would warrant a deal to Los Angeles.
Probably the best James trade proposal the Mavs could cobble together is this: Dinwiddie and Hardaway with promising forward Josh Green and newly re-signed Dorian Finney-Smith, plus three first-round picks.
That is not a bad package of players—if you are getting back a low-level star. But for James, who even at age 37 is still among the best players in the league and certainly its top draw? That is not even close.
LeBron Hearts Luka
Still, there is the possibility that James could push the Lakers to make something happen with the Mavericks because of his appreciation of Doncic’s game. As Trigg and Afseth point out, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst harped on that back in April, and Windhorst has covered James more extensively than just about anyone in the media.
Speaking on ESPN’s Get Up in April, Windhorst said, “He talked about how much he admires Luka Doncic. And that is something you should put in your back pocket. Don’t ever judge LeBron 100% on his words, judge him on his actions. The best way you can see how LeBron feels about people is who he drafts in his All-Star draft. He has drafted Luka Doncic all three years he has been an All-Star. …
“He, I think, would also love to play with Luka, and in the fantasy world, if you want to enter the fantasy realm, that is something I think is more worthy of having a discussion about.”