For years, LeBron James signed fundamentally one-year deals (1+1) that he would use as leverage to make the front office do whatever he wanted to improve the team before the trade deadline. This year, LeBron did the same with his press conference after the Bucks wiped the floor with the Lakers....and he got a middle finger from Rob Pelinka and Jeanie Buss.
As we found out, the Lakers had several versions of a Wall-Westbrook trade on the table. One would involve draft considerations, and the other involved Christian Wood. Still, the Lakers decided not to pull the trigger. The draft pick would be in 2027, sacrificing even more future for the present, and bringing Wood in would mean a lot more luxury tax. Ramona Shelbourne translated what the decision not to make a move meant.
”The Lakers front office, and that includes ownership, decided 'You guys got yourself into this, this is the bed you made. LeBron, Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, all the future Hall of Famers. This is your choice of roster and team, go make it work. We are not going to mortgage our future because this team isn't working yet.'”
Ramona Shelbourne, The Hoop Collective
Both versions of the trade were not acceptable for the Lakers, and it was the right call to make. Who knows what the team will look like in 2027, and will LeBron be on it. (Depends on where Bronny is drafted, I guess). And the Lakers may be one of the most valuable franchises, according to Forbes, but they are the primary business of the Buss family. Billion-dollar valuations are only a number until you sell them; in the meantime, cash flow is what keeps you going, and the Lakers were always known as a very cash flow careful team, to put it mildly.
With power comes responsibility
We've mentioned this several times. Influential players put pressure on organizations to make win-now moves, basically go all-in, and when the run is over leave because they have no more chips to put on the table. LeBron pushed Miami to mortgage their future for the present, and soon as Wade's knees were done, he left town.
The same thing happened in Cleveland. Trade out all young players and draft picks for veteran players, and when it was time to replenish the asset base, he was gone to Los Angeles. The difference now is that LeBron has a multi-year deal with the Lakers - he's signed through '22/'23. He can't escape and has to face the music that LeGM composed.
Laker Nation doesn't want to hear it, but insiders are already announcing the Lakers aren't confident they'll move Westbrook in the summer. They will only be able to make the same offer they had this trade deadline, and we've seen where that got them.
For the first time in his career, LeBron will have to face the consequences of his team-building power. I guess we are all witnesses.