The Los Angeles Lakers have the option of trading LeBron James for a $181 million superstar this summer.
On January 16, David Aldridge of The Athletic proposed a hypothetical trade between the Lakers and New Orleans Pelicans. Los Angeles would send James to New Orleans for Brandon Ingram, Devonte’ Graham and a 2024 first-round pick in Aldridge’s speculative trade. It’s worth mentioning, though, that Aldridge doesn’t see this trade going through.
“Pelicans GM David Griffin had LeBron in Cleveland, built a strong relationship with him and shares his determination to not skip steps in building a championship culture. But with Zion Williamson playing out of his mind so far this season and the Pelicans storming near the top of the West even with Brandon Ingram injured, there’s little chance the Pels are gonna rock the boat now. There’s also not much of an on-court fit between James and Williamson, since neither spaces the floor and both do their best work deep in the paint,” Aldridge wrote. “Another reason a LeBron deal with New Orleans feels unlikely is that the Pels have the Lakers’ unprotected 2023 first-round pick – yet another bounty from the AD trade. If the Lakers crash and burn this season, New Orleans would add another lottery talent to its already stuffed roster. (If the Pels somehow get No. 1 and Victor Wembanyama, this spring … geesh.) It would be fiscally smarter for the Pelicans to add a big-upside rookie on a cost-controlled contract than take on James’ hefty salary.”
James signed a two-year, $97.1 million extension with the Lakers in August 2022. The four-time MVP and four-time Finals MVP is ineligible to be traded this season since the second year of his extension exceeds a 5% raise. James, who has a player option for the 2024-25 season worth $50.7 million, can be traded this summer.
Aldridge: The Case for the Pelicans Trading for LeBron James
Aldridge doesn’t envision the Pelicans trading for James. However, he did wonder in his column about the benefits of New Orleans having the King.
“On the other hand, James remains an expectations lifter who could be a great help to coach Willie Green, who has his own championship bona fides from his time as a Warriors assistant,” Aldridge wrote. “Also: the Pels desperately need and would like a new arena to replace Smoothie King Center. Will the city and state provide the public dollars needed to help finance a new building for the current team, no matter how good it is now or as high as its potential could be? I don’t follow Louisiana politics closely, so I don’t know. But would local jurisdictions be more inclined to pony up for a new spot if they knew they could watch LeBron anchoring a championship-ready squad in SKC for a couple of years while the new joint gets built, after which Zion would be the franchise/building draw for a decade? If LeBron helped Nawlins get to even one finals in an abbreviated stay there, wouldn’t that be worth it?”
James is averaging 29.8 points, 8.4 rebounds and 7.0 assists this season while shooting 50.9% from the field, 29.0% from beyond the arc and 76.4% from the free-throw line. The Pelicans could compete for a championship in 2023-24 with James next to Zion Williamson and CJ McCollum.
Aldridge: The Lakers Could Build Around Brandon Ingram & Anthony Davis
The Lakers could build around Ingram and Anthony Davis after trading James to the Pelicans. Ingram, who began his career in Los Angeles, is one of the top young scorers in the NBA. He’s averaging 23.2 points since getting traded to New Orleans in 2018.
“The logical centerpiece going to the Lakers would be Ingram, a prolific scorer in any system,” Aldridge wrote. “It’s not a criticism of Ingram to note that since Nov. 25, when he went out with a toe injury, New Orleans has been a more than adequate enough 12th in the league in offensive rating – and 10th in defensive rating. The Lakers could also ask for the return of the 2024 first they also have to send New Orleans as part of the AD trade. With three ’24 firsts in their quiver, the Pelicans may want to get off of at least one of those, anyway, allowing the Lakers to add a young and inexpensive player to their rotation.”
The Lakers are 20-25 this season. They likely won’t win the championship despite James putting up incredible numbers. If LeBron requests a trade in the offseason, the Pelicans could be interested in acquiring the future Hall of Famer since executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin has a close relationship with James.