Home Latest The Big Questions Facing LeBron James and the Lakers – Sports Illustrated

The Big Questions Facing LeBron James and the Lakers – Sports Illustrated

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On this week’s Friday edition of the Crossover podcast, Chris Mannix talks to Lakers reporter Kyle Goon about Russell Westbrook’s future with the team, the possibility of landing Kyrie Irving and what small moves the team should make going forward. He also catches up with SI draft expert Jeremy Woo on how the top lottery picks look after Summer League and his early thoughts on next year’s likely No. 1 pick Victor Wembanyama.
The following transcript is an excerpt from The Crossover NBA podcast. Listen to the full episode on podcast players everywhere or on SI.com.
Mannix: You don’t have to be deeply embedded in the NBA to know the Lakers would love to get Kyrie Irving on the roster. How that happens is complicated, because we don’t know exactly how the Nets wanna play this. We don’t know if the Nets want to come to some kind of resolution with Kevin Durant before they do anything. And we don’t know exactly what pound of flesh the Nets wanna extract from the Lakers in order to make a Westbrook-centric, Kyrie-centric swap. Maybe it includes a third team, who knows? But those would be the principles in a deal like that.
What’s your sense of what the Lakers hope happens in the next couple of months?
Goon: I mean, obviously I think that they would wanna make it happen. What is complex about the Lakers’ situation is, I wonder if ownership and the front office and LeBron's camp … I wonder if they're seeing eye to eye on it.
I think it’s pretty evident that LeBron and his camp think trading out, somehow, Russ for Kyrie Irving gets you closer to what a championship team should look like, gives you more of a window than Russ does currently. I also think it’s incredibly important to look at: Privately the Lakers basically since the trade deadline have been very protective of their first-round picks and then even publicly Jeanie Buss says to NBA.com last week, Oh, well, we don’t want to do a deal that further hampers our future. And I think she’s starting to get a sense of, and perhaps the front office by extension, well, what comes next after LeBron?
LeBron’s gonna turn 38 in December. Realistically, if we burn it all now and we don’t get there, what happens through 2027 or 2029, which are the two first-round picks they can still deal? So I think there’s a little bit of, let’s say misalignment there, where LeBron has short-term interest—it’s like, we think we can win now with me, AD and Kyrie—and the Lakers are sort of looking at the long-term interest of the franchise. And I think that is one thing that’s complicating the deal.
I also came away from Summer League kind of just, hearing a little bit more about the Nets’ side of things, less convinced that the Lakers had what they needed to swing the deal. And if you look at various permutations and what I’ve heard on the Laker side is like, O.K., well, what if we were to deal Russ and Talen Horton-Tucker for Kyrie and Joe Harris? And Joe Harris is just finishing a year where he was basically not playing at all. I still think that the Lakers get back the two best players in the deal, if that’s who they’re looking for.
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Mannix: Kyle, you know that inside like Southern California, Talen Horton-Tucker is Michael Jordan. Like he’s the greatest player, greatest prospect ever. Outside, amongst NBA executives I’ve talked to, it’s like, he’s a nice prospect who took a bit of a step back last year from the guy we saw a year ago. We kind of joked all year long on this pod and elsewhere about the Talen Horton-Tucker, Kendrick Nunn kind of platter the Lakers were offering out there like it was gonna get you Zach LaVine or whatever.
Goon: The other part that the Lakers understand internally is, like, coaches knew at the time last year that Talen and Russ couldn’t play together. So you’re gonna package those two dudes. And not that Russ is gonna play wherever you deal him, but two guys who are ballhandlers, who don’t shoot very well—it’s like, and that’s our package. And plus first-round picks that matriculate a long time down the line. So for the Nets, where they are with their luxury tax situation, I’m sort of skeptical that that’s a package that is so appealing that they have to really look at it.
But you know, on the Lakers side, I think their thought was, well, Joe Harris hasn’t played. So, what’s his value? Are we really gonna send Talen Horton-Tucker to the Nets for a guy like Joe Harris with Kyrie? But I think obviously, if you look at what the results were last year, obviously the answer would be yes. So I don’t know. I think probably more discussion has to happen on that point and maybe there’s more recent discussions that I haven't heard about yet, but I always thought that was a little strange perspective.
Mannix: Just my opinion. I would go and get Joe Harris. For starters, he was injured last year. Presumably he's gonna be past that, had the ankle surgery, all that. He played 69 games each of the previous two years. He is, statistically, the best shooter in the NBA, and what shooter has ever not thrived opposite LeBron James. Like, Kyle Korver played probably three years longer than he should have in large part because of LeBron James. These guys that can shoot, they are the perfect fit. And you put Joe Harris alongside LeBron and Anthony Davis, and you are dangerous offensively, man. You are dangerous.
Goon: The other thing that isn’t being talked about in this context is the Lakers don’t have shooting right now. I mean, their star free agents are all guys who are younger. They may have had a good shooting year in the past, but Lonnie Walker is their mid-level exception guy and he shot like 31% last year.
So the Lakers need shooting like anything. And last year that was a key reason why they didn’t get where they wanted to get. And they remake their roster and it's younger and it’s faster and maybe defends better, but it still doesn’t have shooters because shooting is such a premium talent that it’s very expensive to get.
So the Lakers didn’t have a lot of salary options to give guys who can actually shoot. So they still have to trade to find that, really. Even if this Kyrie deal doesn’t work out, they’re gonna have to make a trade to find at least one guy who is proven. That’s a minimum, in my mind. I think you can’t go into next season without one shooter who is proven, and they really don’t have that right now.
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Mannix: Last thing for you. LeBron will be a free agent at the end of next season. On August 4, he’s eligible to sign a contract extension. How much do you think that looms over the rest of the Lakers offseason?
Goon: Oh, huge. Huge. You know, it’s really hard to know at this point where that lies. I mean, at one point it seemed pretty clear that LeBron was definitely gonna re-sign here, finish a career here, retire a Laker. There's some big things coming up. He’s gonna be the all-time leading scorer in regular season history. And that's gonna be meaningful to have him in a Laker uniform when he passes Kareem, another Laker. I think there’s good things that the Lakers would want to come out of that.
But LeBron kinda laid the tracks that maybe he could leave. I mean, he’s talked about it and he tried to pull back on it, but All-Star break this year, he’s like, Oh yeah, I'll go to whichever team has Bronny. And then he tried to roll it back by saying that could be the Lakers, but that’s not what he said at first.
So, I think, you’re seeing signs that the alignment is not where it needs to be. And I know for a fact that LeBron’s camp was very disappointed that the Lakers didn’t make a move at last year’s trade deadline. And that was a huge source of contention. So then right after that is All-Star break, that’s when LeBron is complimenting every GM that’s not named Rob Pelinka and doing all this stuff. And so I think it’s definitely possible that he still holds it over them.
I think maybe the best thing for all involved is to figure out at least, you know, two more years where he can be a Laker until he’s 40. And then maybe allow him to figure out what he’s gonna do with Bronny, whenever Bronny comes in the league. But it’s definitely less of a sure thing than it was, you know, seven months ago. And I don’t think that’s been resolved because this Russell Westbrook situation still isn’t resolved. And I think one has a lot to do with the other. I’m not saying that will be for sure the reason that LeBron does extend or doesn’t extend, but I think if they make a deal with Russ and if they figure out Kyrie, I think that will go a long way to making sure that LeBron does have a long-term future with the Lakers.
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James has found ultimate joy all through his 23-year-long journalism career by writing for national and international newspapers, websites, and blogs. From technology to politics to sports to entertainment, he has been able to express ideas and pen opinion pieces on whatever triggers his interest.