Despite the passive aggressive squabbling between LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers, it is difficult to imagine L.A. trading one of the greatest players in NBA history. Yet, if the relationship continues to grow apart this offseason, the Lakers may be forced to at least consider the possibility of dealing James. This is especially true if James opts not to sign a contract extension this summer and enters next season on the final year of his deal.
Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix and Howard Beck discussed plausible trade partners for the Lakers during a March 1 episode of “The Crossover” podcast. Both analysts were quick to point out that the more preferable option for the Lakers is to build around James.
Mannix described the Nuggets as a “wild card team” that could make a strong push for James. Denver tried to make a run at the superstar prior to James joining the Lakers in 2018. Both analysts agreed Denver would be a logical fit for James with Beck saying Denver could be willing to give up both Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr.
“LeBron and Jokic alone is a contender, throw anybody around them, especially shooters, you’re going to be in good shape,” Beck explained. “…I did not do any trade machine stuff here folks, so do not hang me on, ‘the math doesn’t work stuff.’ I haven’t even looked into that. Plus, in the summer it’s going to be different numbers anyway.
“I would even do Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. for LeBron, because LeBron and Jokic is enough. …They’re both injury risks. They’re both coming off of serious injuries, and if you’re the Lakers, you have to get enough back to be viable.”
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The Lakers Would Likely Need a Third Team in the Trade to Land Both Porter & Murray
A bit of an editor’s note here as this two-for-one swap would work based on the current cap numbers, but Porter’s contract extension kicks in next season when his salary will jump from $5.2 million to $29.75 million.
Porter also has a poison pill in his deal if dealt this offseason prior to July 1st, per Spotrac, which makes him harder to trade. The Lakers would likely need a third team to be involved to be able to land both Murray and Porter in a deal. Los Angeles would also need to trade more salaries than just James to absorb both contracts, but the Lakers only have Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook as additional players with lucrative deals.
Even if the Lakers could only land one of these star players along with a package of picks, it would have some intrigue compared to other potential packages full of veterans.
The Nuggets Could Be a ‘Wild Card’ Trade Partner
The Nuggets could be a good team for the Lakers to target for a few reasons. They have plenty of young assets they can offer the Lakers, and more importantly, Denver has been unable to be a major attraction in free agency.
This may prompt the front office to pay a little more for a 37-year-old James than other teams are willing to offer in a blockbuster deal. Mannix also sees the Nuggets making a possible run at James but expressed doubt that they would be willing to include two key pieces.
“The team that most interests me though is the Denver Nuggets,” Mannix said. “I remember when LeBron was a free agent back in 2018. The Nuggets, their officials were telling me like, ‘We want to make a run at it him. We just want a meeting with with [Klutch Sports CEO] Rich Paul, with LeBron. We don’t care what kind of contract he’s looking for [a] one-year deal, five-year deal. Whatever he wants to do, we want in on that.’
“…Could the Nuggets get the Lakers’ interest in a package centered around Michael Porter Jr.? Who all of the sudden, on his new contract, is going to make a heckuva a lot of money. So, he becomes somewhat tradable, not dollar for dollar with LeBron, but you don’t have to scrounge around looking for the salary cap to fit.
“Denver is and will continue to be a wild card team for LeBron James, because Tim Connelly, the general manager, believes in taking big swings. And the Nuggets with Nikola Jokic, with Jamal Murray, you add LeBron to that mix, are they the favorites in the West? Probably, you’ve got an MVP, an All-Star and whatever LeBron is at that point. Probably somewhere in between of those two things. That’s a team to watch if the Lakers get real interested in trading LeBron.”
Murray & Porter Are Both Recovering From Significant Injuries
Murray has not played this season as he continues to recover from a torn ACL. The Nuggets guard averaged 21.1 points, 4.8 assists and four rebounds while shooting 40.8% from long range during the 2020-21 season. Porter has played in just nine games this season after undergoing back surgery in December 2021. The forward posted a career-high 19 points and 7.3 rebounds per game while shooting a blistering 44.5% from the three-point line last season.
Despite leaving the door open for a potential return to Cleveland, James continues to insist that his desire is to remain with the Lakers. James and the Lakers are heading towards a pivotal offseason that could decide their future together.
“This is the franchise that I see myself being with,” James told reporters on February 25. “…I’m here, I’m here, I continue to tell you guys… I literally live in the moment. I do, I live in the moment and I see myself being with the purple and gold as long as I can play. But I also have a goal that, if it’s possible, I don’t even know if it’s possible, but if I can play with my son, I would love to do that.”