The Los Angeles Lakers made the biggest moves of the offseason, when they traded for both Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. Despite those deals, the latest rumor has L.A. making an even bigger splash in the near future.
According to Brian Windhorst of ESPN, executives from multiple teams think the Lakers are setting themselves up to try and sign LeBron James in 2014. James’ contract runs through 2016, but he can opt out of the deal in 2014.
It could be perfect timing for the three-time MVP to join L.A. Kobe Bryant’s contract is set to expire when James can test free agency. If the shooting guard wants to return, Los Angeles would almost certainly keep him, but there’s no guarantee that he’ll want to play beyond two more seasons.
Recently, Bryant indicated that he might retire in the near future. He told CBSSports.com that there’s a good chance he’ll be done when his contract is up.
"It's just that three more years seems like a really long time to continue to stay at a high, high level of training and preparation and health," Bryant stated. At 34 years old, Bryant says he never planned to play much longer than this.
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“I said when I was 17 that I'd be done when I was 35,” said Bryant. “It shouldn't be anything new. It's inevitable. It's got to come. I'm not going to play 25 years.”
In his 16th year, Bryant was still one of the league’s best. He finished the 2011-12 season averaging 27.9 points per game, good for second in the NBA.
With Bryant no longer being the player that he once was, James is recognized as the best player in basketball. Leading the Heat to a championship in 2012 solidified his place at the top of the NBA.
After winning a title with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, there is not much reason to think that James will decide to leave Miami in two seasons. The trio has made it to the NBA Finals in both seasons that they’ve played together, and has an opportunity to win several rings together.
Still, there is a chance that James will opt out, when the time comes. In the past, he’s hinted that he might play somewhere else, before his career is over; specifically, Cleveland. Even if he doesn’t plan on signing anywhere else, he could opt out in 2014.
“LeBron is the best player in the league and he's making less than the max, so unless he's seriously hurt he's going to opt out in 2014, if only because I would assume he wants and deserves to get a true max," a league executive said. "Even if the Heat win the next two titles there's a feeling that LeBron is going to become a free agent in two years no matter what."
With Bryant, Howard, Nash and Pau Gasol on the roster, the Lakers have little flexibility. In 2014, however, they should be able to make a few moves. Gasol, Bryant, Metta World Peace and Steve Blake will all come off the books, when LeBron would, potentially, be available.
The idea of James playing for Los Angeles might seem far-fetched, but the Lakers will be prepared to sign the NBA’s best player.