Pro No. 2 for the Lakers to consider trading LeBron James: Escape the all-in trap
There’s a historical theory called the Malthusian trap that applies to the NBA championship cycle. The premise of the theory is that resources are linear, but population growth is exponential. This fact will lead to population growth that outpaces resource extraction, which then causes reduced standards of living and population decline. So, how does this relate to NBA teams? Glad you asked.
When NBA teams are all-in, they have to expend more and more resources to compete. Let’s call this a period of win-growth. However, the resources to win– players, draft picks, financial flexibility– have a limited supply and are refreshed linearly. While NBA teams can try and avoid this Malthusian trap, the cycle of competition and win-growth usually leads to a period of reduced competition and win-decline as teams have taxed their dwindling resources to grow their wins.
The Lakers are currently trapped in such a predicament. With LeBron James still playing at a high level, the Lakers need to expend resources to compete for a title, but their resources are already highly tapped. At some point, their desire to compete will lead to a period of diminishing returns and likely a spate of non-competitive seasons. Arguably, the Lakers are already there. Moving LeBron removes this pressure and will allow the team to enter a phase of resource acquisition. However, the longer they keep him, the longer this non-competitive period will last. Getting out of this all-in period could save the Lakers in 2032, but it’ll come at the cost of 2024.
As a side note, James, whether he knows it or not, has always been acutely aware of this predicament. He left the Cavaliers the first time after they failed to use their resources effectively, then left the Heat right as their successful all-in period was about to decline, and he left the Cavaliers for a second time when their successful all-in approach had tapped their resources dry. Because James has made every team a championship-caliber side and demands such a commitment from ownership, he is the NBA’s ultimate Malthusian trap. Which is a testament to his greatness and not a critique.
Con #3 for the Lakers to consider trading LeBron James: Reputation
The Lakers have not been a particularly well-run organization over the past decade. Yes, they have a championship, but they have also missed the playoffs eight times over the past 11 seasons. However, for all of the Lakers’ failures, they’ve retained their most valuable resource– their reputation.
Reputation matters, and it’s what gives the Lakers their inherent advantages over the rest of the league. The Lakers’ reputation as a franchise for the stars is the single most valuable resource in the league, and trading James would put a massive dent in that.
James is the biggest basketball star in the world, and the Lakers trading him would say that the organization is unwilling or incapable of catering to him. While it wouldn’t erase a reputation that has taken decades to build, it might give future stars some pause. Remember, James went to Los Angeles to be a Laker. Their organizational reputation landed them the greatest player of a generation, and keeping that reputation intact should always be a priority.