Lakers Urged to Take ‘Risk’, Trade for Disgruntled Former MVP

LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers

Getty LeBron James #6 of the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Los Angeles Lakers are coming off their first win of the preseason. But the fast-paced nature of the NBA world is to look forward and, as their 0-4 showing in the Western Conference Finals showed, there appears to be room for improving the roster.

There has been plenty of speculation around a potential pursuit of Dallas Mavericks star Kyrie Irving, a one-time teammate of Lakers superstar LeBron James.

Andy Bailey of Bleacher Report offers a different target: Philadelphia 76ers star James Harden.

“Assuming the Lakers hit a point where they actually feel they need a jolt, perhaps that same package would interest the 76ers,” Bailey wrote on October 11. “while lineups with Harden, Austin Reaves and LeBron could be highly susceptible to the “too many cooks” issue, maybe James is the kind of alpha personality Harden has always needed to survive a deep playoff run.”

Lakers get:

– James Harden

Sixers get:

D’Angelo Russell
Rui Hachimura
– 2029 first-round pick

“From just about the moment the Los Angeles Lakers signed D’Angelo Russell to his new two-year, $36 million contract, it felt like he would find his way into some trade rumors,” Bailey continues. “The deal is movable, and when combined with Rui Hachimura’s salary and maybe a draft asset, it might be able to fetch L.A. another star.”

Harden, the 2017-18 MVP, would qualify. Bailey notes trading for him would be a “risk”, though.

He averaged 21.0 points, 10.7 assists (led the NBA), and 6.1 assists last season, knocking down 38.5% of his 7.2 three-point attempts per game.

That was seventh-most attempts per game in his career but would have been tied for the team lead on the Lakers last season. With their additional emphasis on getting up more threes this year, adding a reliable shooter like Harden could be a sound move on paper.

James Harden as Risky as Kyrie Irving

Irving has garnered a lot of headlines for his mercurial nature which has seen him become disenchanted with his situation multiple times, leaving him on his third team in the last six seasons. Harden comes with many of the same concerns. He would be on his fourth team in the last five seasons if his trade demands were met.

The Lakers were also said to be out on pursuing Irving this past offseason to let their current group grow, per Jovan Buha of The Athletic on the “HoopsHype” podcast in March.

They added several pieces to a group that shook off a 2-10 start to put forth an 18-9 close to the regular season to make a run to the Western Conference Finals. And, for all of the hand-wringing over their getting swept, it was at the hands of the eventual champions.

Harden is also in the final year of a two-year, $68.6 million contract.

Part of his gripe with the Sixers was his desire for a new, long-term contract. The Lakers would be surrendering one starter in Russell and one super-sub (at worst) in Hachimura on top of draft capital to bring in Harden. Harden’s track record – which includes no more than 68 appearances in each of the last four seasons – suggests that is not a wise investment.

Lakers Have Been Down This Path Already

Trading for Harden (or Irving) could be reminiscent of Russell Westbrook’s tenure in which the fit just was not there despite both sides being open to making it work.

Whether or not Harden would be as amenable to sacrificing as Westbrook did is unknown.

Harden is less than a year younger than Westbrook and nearly three full years older than Irving and comes with as much or more baggage than either. The Lakers, meanwhile, are looking to build team chemistry this preseason; difficult to do if one player is always a flight risk.