LeBron Signs 2 year, $97 million Extension with LA Lakers; Russ Trade Imminent?

It took about two weeks for LeBron to sign the extension he was eligible to sign starting August 4:

This jibes with a lot of what we’ve been seeing lately: that LeBron is very happy where he is, he’s on good terms with the Lakers front office, and he wants to remain a Laker.

I personally don’t think it’s a ideal for LeBron to hitch his wagon to an owner as incompetent as Jeanie Buss. I thought LeBron should’ve tried to get traded back to Miami. But LeBron sees it differently.

And who am I to question him? He knows what he’s doing. He’s committed to winning, and he would not be signing this deal if he didn’t believe the LA Lakers were his best chance to win.

I don’t think LeBron is just at a point in his career where he’s going to coast until he passes Kareem and gets to play with Bronny. I don’t think he’s given up on winning championships. I don’t think he’s satisfied with what he’s accomplished.

So that’s why people on social media are saying this must mean a Russell Westbrook trade is imminent.

The reasoning is that LeBron probably has some under the table agreement with Rob Pelinka:

The contract was the main leverage LeBron had over the Lakers. It enabled him to say, “I’m not signing until you do x, y and z.”

And so people think that because LeBron has signed it, the Lakers must have promised them that they would do x, y and z–whatever those things are.

Presumably one would be jettisoning Russell Westbrook. That has to be priority #1 over everything else–even getting Kyrie Irving. What I mean is, the Lakers must execute some trade to get rid of Russell Westbrook, even if that trade doesn’t bring in Kyrie Irving.

Getting rid of Westbrook is more important than getting Kyrie Irving. Obviously the Lakers would prefer to trade Westbrook to Brooklyn and get Kyrie in return. But if the Kyrie trade is off the table, then the Lakers must make some other trade involving Russ, whether it be the Buddy Hield/Myles Turner trade, or the Pat Bev/Bogdanovic trade with Utah.

I’m sure LeBron wants Kyrie, but I don’t know if he would make his new contract contingent on the Lakers signing Kyrie. I don’t know if LeBron would hold the Lakers feet to the fire like that–“Get me Kyrie or I won’t re-up.” I don’t think he’s said that to them. Because that’s just too restrictive. The Lakers may have to give up too much to get Kyrie in that case, and it might be counterproductive.

LeBron wants to improve the roster. I’m sure that’s why it took so long for him to actually sign this extension–he wanted assurances. And I know LeBron wants Kyrie. Lakers fans desperately want Kyrie, but I can assure you: LeBron wants him even more. He’s certainly been in Rob Pelinka’s ear this whole time pushing him to make a move for Kyrie.

The problem is this: it hasn’t happened. You know the Lakers have been trying, but the trade hasn’t happened. And that should concern Laker fans.

The way it’s looking now is that the Nets are being extremely stubborn when it comes to trading Kevin Durant, and thus Kyrie Irving as well. KD demanded a trade in early July. The Nets then started fielding offers, but their asking price was so high no team could meet it. One wonders if they made their asking price unreasonably high on purpose.

KD probably came to believe that, as he recently had a meeting with Joe Tsai in London where he reportedly said, “Either fire Nash and Marks or trade me.” KD was trying to force Tsai’s hand.

Tsai said he was standing with Nash and Marks, and most people assumed that meant a KD trade was imminent, but nothing has happened so far.

And so now the thinking is that Joe Tsai has simply called KD’s bluff. KD is under contract for 4 more years, after all. So what if Joe Tsai said, “I’m not going to fire Nash, I’m not going to fire Marks, and I’m not going to trade you. How about that? You’re under contract for 4 more years, and if I don’t get an offer I like, I’m not just going to trade you for pennies on the dollar. I don’t owe that to you. I want this team to win. That’s my number one priority, not trading you to whatever team you want. You signed the contract committing to this team for 4 more years.”

That’s what it seems like has happened. The Celtics were thought to be the most likely trading partner for the Nets as the Celtics could offer Jaylen Brown and some other good pieces, but then I guess the Nets asked way too much of the Celtics.

It seems like the Nets are determined to either get a king’s ransom for KD, or not trade him at all. Maybe that’s just posturing, and they will eventually fold. That seems to be what other teams are banking on–that eventually the Nets will cave and lower their asking price on KD. Nobody is desperate to make the trade right now. But perhaps that will change if, say, KD starts holding out, then maybe the Nets will rush to make a deal. It all depends on how serious KD is about getting out of Brooklyn.

So what does this have to do with the Lakers? I started this post talking about LeBron and his new contract and now I’m talking about KD’s trade situation.

Well, the conventional wisdom is that Kyrie won’t get traded until KD gets traded.

And that may be true. Most of the plugged-in reporters and talking heads believe that’s the reality of the situation. But I’ve said many times in the past I think KD wants out of Brooklyn because he wants to get away from Kyrie. So what if it’s possible the Nets trade Kyrie before they trade KD in order to potentially convince KD to stay in Brooklyn? Or what if the Nets just want to be done with Kyrie and get him off the team? I think that’s possible.

It seems like KD is past the point of no return with Brooklyn. Same with Kyrie. The NBA seems to think so as well, as they didn’t schedule the Nets for a Christmas Day game–indicating they think the Nets will not be a big TV draw by that time. So we’ll see what happens.

But here’s the issue: if the Nets trade Kyrie before KD, then it means they will have Westbrook and KD on the team at the same time, and that is completely untenable. If there was ever a chance of the Nets keeping KD and getting him to change his mind, it would require them to not have Russell Westbrook on their team.

The problem is the only way they can get rid of Kyrie is to trade for Russell Westbrook, which is something they really don’t want to do. Even if they trade for Westbrook and buy him out, that’s $47 million in dead money. You can’t just pay a guy $47 million to not play and still expect to be an NBA Title contender. It’s simply not realistic.

The Nets are pretty fucked, the more I look at this. They are just not getting any attractive offers for KD on the open market, which means they’re not trading him for the time being. And the only team that wants Kyrie has to send Russell Westbrook in return, something that KD would not be happy about.

In other words, the Nets’ only hope to convince KD to stay is to trade Kyrie. But the only way the Nets can trade Kyrie is by sending him to the Lakers for Russell Westbrook, perhaps the only player in the NBA that KD wants to play with less than Kyrie Irving.

The Nets, from their perspective, know they have to trade KD before Kyrie. Because if they trade Kyrie for Westbrook, all the other teams in the league will know the Nets are blowing it up. They know for a 100% fact that KD will not take the floor with Russell Westbrook on the team this upcoming season, and so they will lowball the Nets even more on the KD trade market. If the Nets are unhappy with the offers they’re receiving for KD now, they’re really going to hate the offers coming their way if they trade Kyrie for Westbrook first.

This whole situation is a mess for the Nets.

Fortunately for the Lakers, while they’re not in a great spot with their current roster and Russell Westbrook being on it, they do have other options.

People now think that because LeBron signed his extension with the Lakers that a Kyrie trade is imminent–or at least a Westbrook trade. LeBron signed the contract before the trade goes down, because if he were to sign the contract after the trade goes down, then it looks like he was holding his contract extension over the Lakers head and refusing to sign it until they made a trade. It would play too much into the “LeGM” narrative. Now that LeBron is locked down, the Lakers have the green light to make a trade. I think it’s fair to draw that conclusion.

An important point here is that LeBron didn’t sign his extension immediately on August 4. He waited until today to do so. Presumably, he was in discussions with the Lakers over the past 2 weeks and getting some guarantees before he agreed to extend his contract.

I do subscribe to the belief that the LeBron contract extension means a Russell Westbrook trade is all but guaranteed. I don’t think LeBron would re-sign with the Lakers unless at the bare minimum, he was given an assurance that he would not be forced to play his 20th season with Russell Westbrook–in other words, waste his 20th season. But the question is, where do the Lakers trade Russ?

I just don’t know. I don’t see how the Nets can unload both KD and Kyrie Irving without getting absolutely rinsed on the trade market. And it’s possible that Rob Pelinka sat down with LeBron and the Klutch team and said, “Look, guys, I’ve been trying my ass off to make this Kyrie trade happen but Brooklyn just is not budging an inch. We have to seriously consider moving on to Plan B and scuttling the Kyrie dreams.”

And it’s possible that LeBron and Klutch see things the same way.

I think what ultimately happens is the Lakers get tired of playing chicken with the Nets and move on to Plan B, which I’m assuming is trading with Indiana for Hield and Turner.

Laker fans may not be thrilled about that, and that’s understandable given that they’ve spent the past month and a half envisioning Kyrie Irving in a Lakers uniform alongside LeBron and AD. It would be a bit of a letdown to end up with Hield and Turner when you were expecting Kyrie.

But LeBron has to know the backup plans the Lakers have in case the Kyrie trade falls apart. And he wouldn’t have signed this extension if he wasn’t OK with those backup plans.

So that should be encouraging.

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