Early this week, 'KTLA Los Angeles' anchor David Pingalore reported that the Los Angeles Lakers' top priority is to trade LeBron James before the Feb. 8 deadline. Those rumors quickly swept across NBA Twitter and led many to question the veracity of Pingalore's sources.
While some pointed to Pingalore's successful track record on other "reports" — LeBron to Cleveland, Kawhi Leonard to the Clippers — this one felt a little too far fetched. James is in the final year of his contract and he has been open with his frustration. But the Lakers trading LeBron James? Really?
The report was quickly refuted by Rich Paul and LeBron's agency, Klutch Sports. No other outlets have floated the possibility. By all indications, the Lakers are going to sink or swim with LeBron on the roster to finish the season. If he does leave, it will probably be as a free agent.
That said, it's certainly a fun hypothetical to ponder. The Lakers have been frightfully incompetent on the roster-building front over the last few seasons. James is tweeting hourglass emojis and talking fondly about NYC. Los Angeles is barely over .500 halfway through the season. So... what if?
Let's put together a few trades that A) force the Lakers to consider a deal and B) potentially satiate LeBron's competitive drive.
3. Lakers trade LeBron James to the Thunder
It's safe to say OKC isn't the most glamorous market for LeBron. But, if we take the 39-year-old at his word — that all the off-court stuff is "noise" — it shouldn't matter enough to overshadow the clear competitive upside of joining the Oklahoma City Thunder. James would move from a play-in team to the No. 2 seed in a loaded West, teaming up with multiple All-Star level players at the front end of their prime.
OKC has the trade ammo to essentially overpay for James, since he's LeBron freakin' James, while still keeping enough flexibility for another major trade down the line. Maybe it's a one-year rental, but James immediately addresses the concerns tied to OKC's lack of postseason experience. The Thunder already play with a sharpness and a competitive edge rarely seen in teams with an average age of 23. James would give the Thunder the best playoff operator of the last two decades — a bonafide basketball genius who has been around the block more than any other active player.
James would, for maybe the first time in his career, be second fiddle. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has ascended to MVP contention and he would still profile as the Thunder's best player. Still, James' ability to set up teammates and create at all three levels would elevate OKC's offense from potent to nuclear. OKC already has playmaking at all five positions. Now, imagine replacing Lu Dort with the G.O.A.T.
The Thunder have the personnel to ease LeBron's burden in the regular season. He would be surrounded by elite defensive personnel on the perimeter (SGA, Jalen Williams) and in the frontcourt (Chet Holmgren). OKC would be the most talented and well-rounded team in the West by a wide margin. The Thunder might just be good enough to convince LeBron to finish his career in Oklahoma.