Los Angeles Lakers: Will LeBron James sign with team

CLEVELAND,OH - LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers reacts in Game Four of the 2018 NBA Finals on June 8, 2018 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)
CLEVELAND,OH - LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers reacts in Game Four of the 2018 NBA Finals on June 8, 2018 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Will the Los Angeles Lakers be able to sign LeBron James in free agency this summer?

If recent Los Angeles Lakers reports are to be believed, LeBron James is almost a lock to sign with the team as a free agent next month.

Perhaps the stories are true, and James has already made his decision. But two other current rumors cast at least some doubt that he will come to L.A.

1. Kawhi Leonard supposedly wants to leave San Antonio and play for the Lakers. But the Spurs have purportedly said that, if they move him at all, they absolutely, positively will NOT trade him to the Lakers.

2. Paul George stated over a year ago that he wanted to return to his native Southern California and play for the Lakers. Ever since then it’s been assumed that he would sign with L.A. as a free agent this summer. But several sources now indicate that he has bonded with Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City, and may well stay put with the Thunder.

What do Leonard and George have to do with James? It’s no secret that LeBron, who will turn 34 shortly after next season begins, wants to be in a position to immediately start winning more titles. And both previous times he was a free agent, his modus operandi was to join (or help form) a stacked team with at least two other all-stars.

Back in 2010, when he “brought his talents to South Beach”, he recruited All-Star forward Chris Bosh to join him and All-Star guard Dwyane Wade in Miami. When he returned to Cleveland in 2014, the Cavs already featured All-Star guard Kyrie Irving, and they soon traded the guy they had just picked No. 1 in the draft, Andrew Wiggins, for All-Star forward Kevin Love.

The pattern speaks for itself. And if the Lakers acquired both Leonard and George, it would be exactly the kind of situation that LeBron favors; a team with two other All-Stars on the roster.

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But what if neither Leonard nor George come to LA? Or what if only George does? Certainly, the Lakers have several promising young players, including Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma. But collectively the trio has only four years of NBA experience. And not only do they have no All-Star appearances yet, but they also have played a total of ZERO playoff games.

That doesn’t exactly sound like a tailor-made roster for James, does it? Maybe that’s why it was also recently reported that the Lakers may pursue free agent Chris Paul, an oft-injured 33-year-old future Hall-of-Fame guard. CP3’s teams have a history of under-performing, or at the very least coming up short, in the postseason. In any event, the Rockets seem confident that they will re-sign him.

Let’s consider the Lakers perspective. Both Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka have spoken about the flexibility that the Lakers have right now. They’ve indicated that the team doesn’t have to sign elite free agents this season, that instead they can develop the talented young core and pursue adding stars a year from now.

Was that simply empty rhetoric? Do they feel pressured to create a big buzz now and try to move the needle rapidly forward? Do they believe the fan base won’t be tolerant if the team continues to improve at a modest pace?

It’s true that signing James would be the big splash that Magic covets. And the average Lakers fan probably thinks, why wouldn’t they want to add a great player like LeBron?

Actually, there are several good reasons why signing him might not be a good move. Specifically:
Age– So far, James has defied the normal impact that time has on an athlete’s performance. But as the saying goes, “Father Time is undefeated”. LeBron WILL slow down and/or suffer an injury. It’s only a question of when not if. How much should they really invest in an aging star? And for how long? Magic Johnson and all Laker fans should remember what happened to Kobe Bryant in his final years.
Style of Play, Part 1– under Coach Luke Walton the Lakers want to take advantage of their youth and athleticism and play at a very fast pace, trying to beat the opponent down the floor whenever possible. At this stage of his career, James is predominantly a half-court player. He’s often too busy complaining to the refs to make it downcourt with the rest of the team.
Style of Play, Part 2– anybody who watched Cleveland in the playoffs saw what a LeBron team looks like. Once the ball crosses half-court, it is delivered to James, who holds onto it, studies the defense, and runs down the shot clock while deciding whether to shoot, drive, or pass. That’s fine as far as it goes. But shouldn’t the Lakers allow guys like Ingram, Ball and Kuzma to have the freedom to make plays on their own? Their development would be hindered, not enhanced, by playing alongside James. The only players who fare better as a LeBron teammate are catch-and-shoot 3-point connoisseurs.
Chemistry and Ego– the young Lakers have developed great chemistry and camaraderie together, much more than is common for a young team. They are unselfish on the court, always ready to pass the ball to an open teammate. LeBron has a gigantic ego and demands that the entire team revolve around him. Yes, he is a very willing passer, but he wants credit for everything that goes right. In Game 1 of the Finals, after JR Smith had a brain lock, James was so frustrated he punched a wall in the locker room. What will he do when a young Laker inevitably makes a mistake? If LeBron joins the team, the combination of young and old could be quite volatile, akin to mixing oil and water.

Magic would also be wise to study the history of the Lakers franchise. On three previous occasions, management sought to create a “super-team”. But the results were not exactly what they had expected.

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In 1968, the team traded for 32-year-old Wilt Chamberlain with the idea that adding him to superstars Elgin Baylor and Jerry West would create a squad that would win multiple titles. Yet the Lakers weren’t crowned champions until 1972, and that was the lone title for that roster.

In 2004 LA signed aging but still effective free agents Karl Malone, 40, and Gary Payton, 35, to join stars, Shaquille O’Neal and Bryant. Featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a super-team, they lost in the Finals, and the following year all but Kobe were gone.

And in 2012 the Lakers traded for Dwight Howard, only 27 but coming off back surgery, and Steve Nash, age 38, to join Bryant and Pau Gasol. Once again they graced the cover of SI. But we all know how successful that “super-team” was.

A championship team must, of course, have talent. But if James and either George or Paul joined the current Lakers team, it is highly unlikely they would seriously challenge a healthy Warriors club. Even if LA somehow managed to sign all three, they would still likely fall short.

That’s because another crucial but often overlooked attribute of a winning team is chemistry, which can often be a missing ingredient when big stars are thrown together. Golden State players have chemistry in spades. A Lakers team with a mix of older established stars and young guys trying to figure things out probably wouldn’t.

Las Vegas oddsmakers list the Lakers as big favorites to sign James. Management and fans should understand that such a move won’t guarantee another championship banner will fly in Staples. Instead, it might easily backfire.

The opinion here remains that the best moves the Lakers can make this summer are to sign George, if possible, and to re-sign restricted free agent Julius Randle. That team should qualify for next year’s playoffs and gain valuable experience. Then, a year from now, management can hopefully add a key free agent like Leonard.

Next: 3 Reasons Signing LeBron James Is A Bad Idea

Perhaps Las Vegas is correct that the die is already cast and LeBron James is indeed coming to LA. Here’s a vote against the idea.