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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Laying out the Lakers - Cavaliers trade

Paul Pierce mentioned a player who almost certainly has to be at the center of this Cleveland - Los Angeles blockbuster trade, and that is shooting guard Donovan Mitchell. The Cavaliers acquired Mitchell in the 2022 offseason but have yet to win a playoff series with him, and barring a surprise in the final days of the season will likely be underdogs in the first round this year. Another loss brings Mitchell that much closer to free agency in 2025 without any reassurance he will re-sign.

That uncertainty will make Mitchell a popular trade candidate this offseason and the obvious centerpiece for a LeBron James trade. If you add Caris LeVert's $16.6 million salary to Donovan Mitchell's $35.4 million salary you almost exactly match LeBron's $51.4 million salary.

Add in a third team to get that second-round pick that the Cavaliers need for Bronny and you get something that looks like this:

LeBron Bronny LAL CLE TOR trade

The Toronto Raptors pick up a stretch-4 to work into their rotation behind Scottie Barnes and a future second courtesy of the Cavaliers, who also take on the four million and change of Jalen McDaniels' salary for next season. For all of that, Cleveland gets Detroit's second-round pick in this draft, likely to land at 31, putting them in position to draft Bronny James.

Perhaps the Raptors want Isaac Okoro in a sign-and-trade instead, or the Cavaliers loop in the San Antonio Spurs and send them Craig Porter Jr. instead. The Raptors are the ancillary party here and the Cavaliers have a number of paths to adding a high second-round pick.

Cleveland thus would have LeBron James and Darius Garland leading the way on offense with Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen walling off the paint, and Max Strus connecting everything together. They would still have Craig Porter Jr., Sam Merrill, Isaac Okoro, Dean Wade and old LeBron pal Tristan Thompson on the bench, with Bronny James along for the ride.

If LeBron can stave off Father Time for another season and Evan Mobley can improve his 3-point shot, that group will almost certainly be a contender in the Eastern Conference next season. Would they be in better shape than they would be without trading for LeBron? Assuming they are reasonably healthy, which they never were this season, it's probably fairly close; the improved size of swapping in LeBron for Mitchell is likely counterbalanced by the diminished spacing. It's likely a wash in the regular season and a slight upgrade in the playoffs.

Let's assume for the moment that Cleveland does this, and without requiring draft compensation from the Lakers for trading a star guard in his prime for a 39-year-old, because the Lakers would never add picks to James to trade him. If the Cavaliers are on board with such a move, and LeBron is all-in on playing with Bronny in Cleveland, do the Lakers make this trade?