Here's a headline that will probably make non-Los Angeles Lakers fans throw up: "Is LeBron the Lakers' next big target." The story, written by plugged-in NBA scribe Brian Windhorst, quotes several league executives that say the Lakers are managing their salary cap so that they will have the space to sign James in 2014, when he has an opt-out clause in his contract that will allow him to become a free agent.
The timing coincides perfectly with Kobe Bryant's stated desire to retire in two years. As Windhorst notes, the Lakers' cap situation clears up just at the perfect time.
In July 2013, Bryant's $30.4 million, Pau Gasol's $19.2 million, Metta World Peace's $7.7 million, Steve Blake's $4 million and Jordan Hill's $3.5 million will come off the books. There likely won't even be any first-round draft picks filling up the cap, either, as the Lakers have already traded their 2013 first-round pick to Phoenix in the Nash deal.
Opposing teams that are making their own long-range free agency plans think they see the Lakers' plan coming into focus. As it stands, L.A. will have enough cap space to add a superstar like James.
A couple important caveats, though:
- All the sources quoted are non-Lakers sources. This isn't to say that the piece lacks legitimacy, because even non-Lakers sources probably have some idea of what the Lakers are planning, but it's not 100-percent clear that this is what the Lakers are actually planning.
- It's not breaking news to say that teams are thinking about acquiring a superstar: Why? That's what they always do. Heck, if any team with a legitimate shot to lure LeBron James could do it, why wouldn't they try? The last time James was a free agent, seven teams (Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, the Clippers, Miami, New Jersey/Brooklyn and New York) gutted their salary-cap space to make room to potentially sign him. Why wouldn't the same thing happen in 2014?
Most importantly: the idea that the Lakers are plotting their next big move, James or not, isn't really that surprising. This is the Lakers, after all. They pulled off a stunning trade for Chris Paul that was only stopped because David Stern wouldn't allow it. They ended up getting Dwight Howard. They pulled Pau Gasol away from the Grizzlies for very little at the time. You think they're just going to sit idly by as Bryant retires? No, they're going to think big, whether it's James or any other superstar that may hit the open market.
So, sit tight, folks. We're all still connecting the dots, but a of right now, the only relevant piece of news here is that the Lakers, as usual, are thinking ahead.