Grade the trade: Lakers send LeBron home with Bronny after falling short in wild pitch

Paul Pierce suggests LeBron James force a trade to Cavaliers to play with Bronny if Lakers lose play-in
LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers
LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers / Patrick Smith/GettyImages
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What has to happen for a LeBron trade to the Cavaliers?

There are a few major questions that need to be answered in building out a trade for LeBron James, even if the Los Angeles Lakers are on board with moving the face of their franchise. To be traded this summer, James would almost certainly need to opt into his $51.4 million player option. The Cleveland Cavaliers, in turn, would need to find enough matching salary to offset James' large contract.

The compensation question is next. How much would it cost Cleveland to land LeBron James? On the one hand, James is still an All-NBA player and his value to the Lakers exceeds his on-court play given his global superstardom. On the other, James is 39 years old and on an expiring contract; how much can the Lakers truly expect to squeeze out of a team like the Cavaliers?

In addition to working out the direct trade for LeBron James the first, they'll need to navigate a path to adding LeBron James the second. Bronny's draft stock is polarizing without the famous name, with some teams likely having a high second-round grade on him due to his athleticism and defensive potential and many other teams having him ranked outside of the top 75.

The Cleveland Cavaliers currently don't have a second-round pick in the upcoming 2024 NBA Draft. If this plan relies on drafting Bronny James, they certainly cannot bank on signing Bronny as an undrafted free agent and hoping that Klutch can prevent every single other team from drafting him. That's too great a risk.

On the other hand, it would be an exceptional reach to spend their first-round pick on a player like Bronny, who is clearly not a first-round pick without his father putting his thumb on the scale. Even then, it would be a costly stretch; other teams have spent picks on players to woo LeBron and have largely been disappointed (Shabazz Napier, anyone?).

The middle-ground would be Cleveland acquiring a pick high in the second round. It's possible that other teams will know what the Cavaliers are doing, but it's unlikely one will waste a pick that high just trying to stop this from happening.

That becomes the road map: match salary, send something valuable back to Los Angeles without overpaying, and acquire a high second-round pick. Let's look at a trade that would pull all of these things off for both the Cavaliers and the Lakers.