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Should Lakers trade LeBron? He’s as much burden as benefit

Should Lakers trade LeBron? He’s as much burden as benefit
Should Lakers trade LeBron? He’s as much burden as benefit

LeBron James tweeted an hourglass emoji after consecutive blowout losses last week, seemingly pushing the Lakers to make improvements before Thursday’s trade deadline.

When asked Saturday if he wanted to clarify the tweet, he said, “No.”

This is so tired.

LeBron James has a $51.4-million player option in his Lakers contract for next season, meaning this summer he could pack up all of his baggage and walk away.

When asked Saturday if he knew what he was going to do about the option, he said, “No.”

This is so lame.

For all his greatness, James remains a passive-aggressive pain in the butt who annually cryptically threatens the Lakers if they don’t give him a championship roster. Yet while he delivers weird nudges and noogies about the team’s problems, he’s continually ignoring the obvious.

He’s the problem.

He’s the team’s most tradeable asset, yet the Lakers don’t feel they can trade him.

He has to win now, which means the Lakers can’t build for the future.

He runs the team, which means coach Darvin Ham is always leading from a position of panic.

The Lakers can’t live with him, but they also can’t live without him, and they are unwilling to unilaterally deal a historic player having another historic season.

There’s one solution to this increasingly messy situation, but it can only come from the man who caused it.

LeBron, if you want to leave, then leave.

LeBron, if you don’t think the Lakers can win a title this season, ask them to trade you now.

LeBron, if you play out this season and want to go to a true title contender for your final ride, decline that option this summer and hit the road.

LeBron, you have two paths out of town. Pick one, it doesn’t matter, just go and let the Lakers get on with their lives.

Lakers forward LeBron James blocks a reverse layup by Hawks guard Bogdan Bogdanovic during the second half of a game on Tuesday.

(John Bazemore / Associated Press)

When the usual trade speculation arose with the hourglass sandstorm last week, ESPN asked agent Rich Paul about James’ future.

“LeBron won’t be traded, and we aren’t asking to be,” Paul said.

Don’t you just love how James’ business associates are now speaking for Rob Pelinka? Hey LeBron, if you want to leave, can you take Rich Paul with you?

This whole thing is increasingly awkward and messy. The Lakers are dealing with a dilemma for which there is no handbook, a problem for which there is no precedent, all of it fueled by a 39-year-old who is not only the Lakers’ biggest attraction but also their biggest roadblock.

What do you do with arguably the best basketball player in history when you’d be better off without him?

The reasons for trading James are obvious. They’ll never do it unilaterally, but it is increasingly apparent they should.

They’ll never win a championship as long as he’s here. He and Anthony Davis are both having spectacular seasons and they’re a .500 team. In this space, before the season, it was written that those two stars would be enough, but they’re not. And the Lakers just don’t have the talent or flexibility to make the kind of roster-buffeting move that would push them past Denver or the Clippers or Phoenix.

James can bring the Lakers desperately needed draft capital and young stars. He would be the missing piece for any serious title team, which would pay nicely for him, and the Lakers could use the return to set them up for a future led by Davis.

If they wait for James to walk this summer, or for his contract to expire after next season, they could lose him for nothing. They would look like the Angels after Shohei Ohtani, and that’s not a pretty sight.

Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka clasps hands with star forward LeBron James after winning the 2020 NBA title.

Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka celebrates with star forward LeBron James after winning the 2020 NBA title in Orlando, Fla. It was James’ only NBA Finals appearance in five seasons with the Lakers.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

They would miss James’ nightly offensive greatness, but they wouldn’t miss his frequent defensive lapses and his age-appropriate injuries and, of course, his locker-room quarterbacking.

In James’ first five seasons here, he has won one COVID-bubbled title and advanced past the first round once, and that’s it. He hasn’t exactly been a title creator so far, and that’s unlikely to change in what is probably the last two springs of his career.

As for the fans, James awes, but he doesn’t quite connect. That 2020 title was won entirely in Florida, meaning Los Angeles has never personally seen James lead this team to a title, and that matters. He’s no Magic. He’s no Kobe. He’s not even Kareem. He could leave and the town would quickly get over it.

So trade LeBron James!

But they can’t trade LeBron James!

Have you watched him at all this season? When he jumped over the Clippers’ Paul George? When he had 20 rebounds and outdueled Golden State’s Steph Curry? His rainbow three-pointer over San Antonio’s Victor Wembanyama? His 30 points in 22 minutes in that in-season tournament win against New Orleans?

James, who amazingly will be playing in his 20th All-Star Game later this month, is like a rare work of art.

The problem is, he’s being displayed in a museum that’s crumbling around him.

Jarred Vanderbilt’s foot injury is just the latest blow to a supporting cast that, Thursday’s inspirational victory in Boston notwithstanding, has largely been a disappointment. No matter what Pelinka can pull off at the trade deadline, this Lakers team doesn’t seem to be a serious title contender, which makes one wonder.

If LeBron James weren’t breathing down his neck to build him a champion before his career ends, would Pelinka even need to sacrifice draft capital and young stars to make a trade?

Couldn’t the Lakers be patient and wait on such injured players like Gabe Vincent, who has played all of five games? Does James’ presence force the Lakers to attempt to buy fancy tires for their sputtering car? Should they really be fueled by James’ desperation?

They are. In terms of public perception and historical narrative, they have no choice. They don’t want to be known as one of the only teams in sports history to trade its sports’ greatest player.

LeBron, they can only do it if you ask.

So, go ahead, ask.

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