What we know about LeBron’s Lakers future: Could Steph Curry, Warriors or Knicks be involved?


The hourglass was so fitting.

Only LeBron James knows the true meaning of that infamous Jan. 30 tweet, the one with 27.9 million views (and counting) that was seen by so many as a hat tip to Father Time and a sign the 39-year-old Lakers star was longing for something more in his legendary basketball life. The fact that it replicated the iconic imagery of the old “Days of Our Lives” soap opera was merely a comedic bonus.

So when the NBA’s longest-running drama provided a new episode on Wednesday, with an ESPN report detailing how the Golden State Warriors had tried unsuccessfully to land James at last week’s trade deadline, it came as no surprise to front-office executives who can read these latest tea leaves just like everyone else. James, who can be a free agent this summer and recently refused to publicly indicate whether he plans on exercising his $51.4 million player option for next season, is giving his suitors hope these days.

But the irony of it all, it seems, is that the Knicks do not appear to be one of them.

Despite all the focus on James’ recent trip to New York, where he sent all sorts of pro-Knicks signals that sparked speculation about that Broadway-worthy possibility, a league source indicated the Knicks’ brass has not discussed the prospect of adding James. Not only does the team lack the requisite salary cap space necessary to make room for James this summer, but the idea of the Knicks making moves to free up that sort of money would be seen internally as a serious setback to their long-term plan. While that could always change, it’s telling that the Knicks didn’t respond to James’ myriad messages by heading straight for the proverbial war room to figure out a plan to bring him to the Big Apple.

James is still playing at an elite level, remarkably, but the fact remains that he’ll be 40 years old in December 2024. But for a team like the Warriors, whose window for contention is framed by a 35-year-old great in Steph Curry, the temptation to pair him with his longtime rival and a fellow legend in James was enough to compel them to inquire.

It wasn’t and isn’t, a LeBron-or-bust obsession, though. The Warriors have long understood that a star wing next to Curry is their cleanest path back to title contention before Curry’s late prime fades. It’s how they won it all in 2022 when Andrew Wiggins basically morphed into Scottie Pippen for two months.

But that Wiggins has been missing the last two seasons, so they’d gone searching for alternative options, dating back a couple months when they entered the Pascal Siakam conversation. The current Indiana Pacers forward is on the low end of that star wing tier and didn’t entice the Warriors enough to make an all-in pitch, but he was the only such player readily available on the market.

The Warriors did, as team sources confirmed, sniff around on LeBron after he sent out hints of discontent. They used the Draymond Green-Klutch Sports connection — Green, James and fellow Lakers star Anthony Davis are represented by the firm — and made some calls as Warriors general manager Mike Dunleavy Jr. and owner Joe Lacob tried to get creative before the deadline buzzer.

But the answer was no. There’s zero indication it was close.

That doesn’t mean it won’t be revisited in the summer. The Warriors’ lead decision makers still believe Curry’s longevity gives them a couple more seasons of possible contention, if the roster around him is up to it. If there’s a path to LeBron, or Giannis Antetokounmpo (their dream scenario), or impending free agent Paul George or a reunion with Kevin Durant, they will explore it.

But, as a Warriors source reiterated in the lead up to the deadline, sometimes “it can be simpler to develop a star wing than acquire one that isn’t available.” Cheaper and more rewarding, also.

Jonathan Kuminga has ascended during the last month. In his last 14 contests, he’s scoring 22.9 points per game in 32.3 minutes. He’s made 58 percent of his shots and 45 percent of his low volume of 3s. He’s been crushing teams at the rim. During that stretch, his 208 paint points are fourth most in the NBA behind only Antetokounmpo, Jalen Brunson and Nikola Jokić.

That has convinced Warriors coach Steve Kerr to tab him as a permanent starter and tweak his offense, giving Kuminga post touches and a share of playmaking duties in ball-screen scenarios.

“JK’s taken off,” Green said. “That’s set the stage for this team. Bona fide No. 2 option on our team.”

That quote from the Warriors forward came after a trade deadline in which Golden State batted away all incoming inquiries for Kuminga, team sources said. (The Bulls tried during discussions involving guard Alex Caruso.) Last Friday, Dunleavy called Kuminga “virtually” untouchable. The next few months, as the Warriors try to climb back to legitimacy, will be about discovering what they have in Kuminga, who will make $7.6 million next season, but is extension eligible this summer.

The better and more consistent Kuminga looks as the stage brightens, the more realistic it becomes that he can fill the vacant No. 2 star wing void or, in the fast forward scenario, the more value he’d have as the centerpiece of a deal to obtain LeBron, or someone in that realm, if the opportunity presents itself.

The Warriors will have flexibility, even as the second apron looms. Klay Thompson’s $43 million contract is expiring. Chris Paul’s $30 million non-guaranteed deal for next season can either be shed or used as a vehicle to aggregate salary in a trade. Kuminga’s reputation is spiking. After the draft, the Warriors will only be out one future first rounder. It’s all about optionality, as they’ve called it.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

Why the Warriors are moving forward with the same roster after the NBA trade deadline

The Lakers, meanwhile, maintain that they have no intention of trading James, according to multiple team sources. Their preference is for James to retire as a Laker — a stance that a high-ranked team source reiterated to The Athletic Wednesday. 

But James’ view of the franchise matters a great deal here too, of course. As long as he still wants to be a Laker, which the source said was communicated to the team’s brass recently, they will want him. Other teams circling this sensitive situation in pursuit of James doesn’t change that calculus.

Not only are rival executives increasingly convinced that James might want out, but they’re also focused on the Bronny James factor. which continues to loom large. James has been talking for years now about the dream scenario of playing with his oldest son who, if he chooses, can leave USC this summer and enter the draft. The idea, then, is that any team that wants to up its chances of landing James should make it a priority to go after Bronny first.

The Lakers, per the high-ranking team source, are also willing to explore the notion of adding Bronny James next season. This stance, the source said, is rooted in the reality that James’ happiness truly matters to the organization. They will potentially have their 2024 first-round pick (depending on if the New Orleans Pelicans, as part of the blockbuster Davis trade, choose to receive that pick or defer to 2025) and have two second-round picks that could help to that end (the Clippers’ and the less favorable of the Grizzlies’ and Wizards’ selections).

Beyond the Bronny component, though, the Lakers are also well-positioned to add the sort of elite-level talent to the roster this summer that could compel James to stay. Ultimately, their ability to make something significant happen on that front could be the difference.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

Inside the Lakers’ dormant trade deadline and what comes next

James has long wanted a star ballhandling sidekick, dating back to the Lakers’ failed bid for Damian Lillard in the summer of 2021 and their subsequent deal for Russell Westbrook. Since then, James urged the Lakers to acquire former running mate Kyrie Irving in the summer of 2022, at the 2023 trade deadline and again in the summer of 2023, according to team and league sources. James was also in support of the Lakers trading for Dejounte Murray or Zach LaVine — two Klutch Sports clients — in the weeks and months leading into the 2024 trade deadline, according to those sources.

The Lakers plan to continue their quest for a third star this summer, armed with as many as three first-round picks, four pick swaps and multiple second-round picks to make a compelling offer for any available star. According to team sources, the organization has discussed three names internally: Trae Young, Donovan Mitchell and Irving. Their interest in Young dates back to 2022-23 season, when the organization identified him as someone who could bridge the gap between Lakers eras and complement Anthony Davis with his off-the-dribble scoring and playmaking. There is also the obvious Klutch Sports connection, which always matters, as Young is also represented by the firm and its founder, Rich Paul.

James’ player option will certainly factor into the Lakers’ offseason plans. The organization hopes that James opts in and they can continue to compete for championships with him, Davis and another star. There’s also the possibility of signing James to a multi-year extension, though he would be limited to a ceiling of roughly three years and $162 million due to the CBA’s over-38 rule.

Regardless, it’s clear the Lakers have begun to plan for their post-James future, and adding another star, particularly a ballhandler, fits their vision for the rest of the decade.

“Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of”… LeBron’s NBA life.

(Photo of LeBron James and Stephen Curry: Ezra Shaw / Getty Images)





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