Los Angeles Lakers: Signing LeBron James would be a mistake

The 2018 offseason could be huge for the Lakers. While the majority believe LeBron should be wearing the Purple and Gold next season, there are better options.

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(Photo Credit: Keith Allison)

It’s been a tough few years for the Lakers, but now there’s light at the end of the tunnel with the Jim Buss era finally finished and NBA legend Magic Johnson taking over the reigns. 

It’s fitting that Johnson’s first move was to trade away D’Angelo Russell to usher in a pass-first point guard in Lonzo Ball, who has the ability to make all the teammates around him better. But aside from making room for Ball, the Russell trade to the Nets also exchanged the terrible three-year contract of Timofey Mozgov for a one-season deal with Brook Lopez. That ensures the Lakers have money on hand to play an active role at the trade table during the offseason.

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Another busy trade period beckons

There will be plenty of top talent available during the trade period, including the likes of Chris Paul and Isaiah Thomas. But one name immediately jumps off the list: LeBron James. The Akron native has delivered his promise to the city of Cleveland with the 2016 NBA Championship, and can now look forward to a new chapter.

It’s clear why LA would be an enticing destination for LeBron. Aside from already having a home in the Brentwood area, Los Angeles would provide a great base for James to establish life after the NBA. On the court, however, bringing in the perennial All-Star to lead the Lakers’ young core could make the team one of the better outfits in the West sooner rather than later. They’ll have the cap space, the talent, and the charms of Magic Johnson on the negotiation table, so it must be a perfect fit, right?

Wrong. 

Why LeBron, Lakers don’t match

Let me clarify first by saying that James is the best player in the world. His legacy as one of the game’s all-time greats is well and truly assured. But if the Lakers are trying to build a dynasty, is an aging LeBron really the marquee free agent they should push for? 

In terms of longevity, you can almost bet that any deal James signs will have a player option after the first season and would be no longer than three years. I have no problem with players taking their careers into their own hands, but in the Lakers’ case, perhaps it’s best to go for the available superstars they can sign to longer deals, with more assurances that they’ll be around for an extended period. 

And it’s not just years that’s the issue, money also comes into play. The Lakers have plenty of cap space and could potentially sign multiple marquee free agents if they waive bench players like Tyler Ennis and Thomas Bryant in addition to the expiring contracts of Lopez and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. However, according to Bleacher Report, LeBron’s salary would mean that he couldn’t be one of the two All-Stars signed. 

All these logistical issues don’t even include the largest problem of all: can both Ball and LeBron play on the same team together? James has heaped tons of praise on the rookie as of late, but could he really cooperate with a pass-first point guard who needs the ball in his hands when he’s played that role himself for his whole career? LeBron has never played with a point guard like Lonzo before. How would coach Luke Walton even build a system with the two when James is off the ball? There are so many question marks, suggesting the LeBron route shouldn’t be in the Lakers’ gameplan. 

Who should the Lakers be going for? 

Simple, DeMarcus Cousins and  Paul George.

First, it can work out money wise, so long as a few pieces are moved around, including losing Luol Deng’s contract and potentially dealing Julius Randle to increase cap space. It’s also more likely that both George and Cousins would look to sign long-term deals in the summer, and even though they can make more money at OKC and the New Orleans Pelicans, respectively, the city of LA, the Lakers organization and all the young talent would  be a tough offer to decline.  

So here’s what the starting lineup would look like with these moves:

PG – Lonzo Ball, SG – Paul George, SF – Brandon Ingram, PF – Kyle Kuzma, C – DeMarcus Cousins

That makes for a well-balanced squad that will be primed for a tilt at the NBA Championship in the years to come. The team will be built around two experienced campaigners in Cousins and George, who are both in their prime, while a young and talented core rounds out a very strong looking lineup.

Besides building a team that could play for many years together and build great chemistry, it could definitely work better on the court systematically than with James in the lineup. 

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Cousins and George to lead the Lakers

Cousins is playing at an MVP level, averaging 27.1 points, 13.2 rebounds, 5.6 assists. 1.6 steals and 1.5 blocks per game. To put these numbers into context, only Kareem Abdul Jabbar has ever averaged over 27 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks in a season. Elgin Baylor, Oscar Robertson and Wilt Chamberlain have accomplish this in the first three categories, but steals and blocks were not recorded stats during those seasons. What’s clear, however, is that Cousins is playing at a historic level, and can be the new superstar big man the Lakers have always had as a staple of their championship-winning teams. 

The Thunder have been struggling so far, but George has still put up 21.6 points per game off 43.2% shooting from the field and an impressive 41% from deep. He is the perfect partner for Lonzo in the backcourt, with his brilliance off the ball and ability to take the tough defensive assignments that the Western Conference offers. He’ll also have had a year’s experience of playing with a more ball-dominant point guard in Russell Westbrook. His 3-point shooting would be a huge boost to a Lakers team that are dead last in 3-point percentage at a woeful 28.7%.

Adding these two stars to a young forward core of Ingram and Kuzma could be special. With Ball, it’s clear he needs time to grow into his NBA body to succeed consistently, but the rookie has shown flashes of his potential. Whether the Lakers change his shot in the offseason, or he finally reaches the level of aggression and intensity needed on the court, Ball has the potential to be a top point guard in this league. Keep Jordan Clarkson as a sixth man, and you could have a dynasty in LA once more. 

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