Heisler: LeBron James looks like he’s the Lakers’ to lose

first_img AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREUCLA alum Kenny Clark signs four-year contract extension with PackersI know, there wouldn’t have been a dry eye in the house.Happily for the Lakers, no free agent was named in the script. With “Lakers” now all but synonymous with “tampering,” it’s not a good time to further annoy Commissioner Adam Silver.Sign up for Home Turf and get exclusive stories every SoCal sports fan must read, sent daily. Subscribe here.Fortunately, James no longer takes presentations so they don’t have to do a video for him and risk seeing it in some media outlet.The problem in sorting the real from internet clickbait is not that we don’t know anything.We’re just not sure what it means amid all the posturing, even by sources free to talk on the condition that they’re not named. Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error Tick … tick … tick.We’re down to the final hours before the start of free agency (Saturday, 9:01 p.m. PT) when all the LeBron James scenarios, from informed to yearning to clueless, meet real life.In past years team officials popped up on stars’ doorsteps at the stroke of midnight ET, or in the case of James, vied for appointments to make presentations, with props like the five championship rings Miami president Pat Riley dumped on the conference table … or heart-tugging videos like the one the Lakers were making for Paul George, but leaked to Sports Illustrated with its script calling for the narrator to be “less Morgan Freeman/Denzel Washington, and more Jamie Foxx.”Faux Jamie would read a pitch entitled “Two Dreams,” about “a kid in your room, dreaming from Palmdale” – obviously George who’s from there – while the Lakers dreamt, too, while building for his arrival.center_img “The LeBron operation, I don’t know how else to put it, but they have basically thrown cold water and vehemently denied everything that has been out there the last couple of days,” said ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, a long-time James insider.“They have denied that he is communicating with Kawhi Leonard. They have denied he is communicating with Kevin Durant about joining up in Los Angeles. They have denied there is a three-way conversation going on between Paul George, Kawhi and LeBron. They have denied that Kawhi being traded to the Lakers would clinch LeBron going to the Lakers.”In other words, with new attention on James’ pattern of orchestrating player moves, his people are terrified of a tampering bust … the monkey wrench in the process LeBron knows so well of selecting just the right place with just the right people.Nevertheless:• James still looks like he’s the Lakers’ to lose.LeBron is formally separating from the Cavaliers with his agent, Rich Paul, informing the team Friday that LeBron would opt out of the final year of his contract, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.Insiders, led by the stellar ESPN reporting team of Adrian Wojnarowksi, Ramona Shelburne and Windhorst, say LeBron wants to decide quickly – hopefully by July 4 – but doesn’t want to be the first star to sign.That dovetails with reports that he’s looking at the Lakers – but wants to make sure they secure another star so he doesn’t come alone.It also dovetails with a little-noted Black Sports Online interview of Gary Payton, who said that LeBron’s oldest son, 13-year-old Bronny, a top prospect in his age group, has tentatively decided to attend Sierra Canyon High in Chatsworth.The school is a hotbed with the sons of former NBA players Scottie Pippen, Kenyon Martin, Duane Washington and Tellis Frank there.The operative word, of course, is “tentatively.”If Dad decides to play elsewhere, the family will easily find another hoops hotbed for Bronny.• The likelihood of Kawhi Leonard coming to the Lakers dropped from “improbable” to “no way.”I thought all along that Spurs boss Gregg Popovich wouldn’t want to trade Leonard to the Lakers, which appears to be the case.The Lakers called up last week. An unnamed Lakers source told Shelburne that the Spurs “basically shut the door on us.”It would be a more difficult decision for the Spurs to make if the Lakers had the best prospects and No. 1 picks to offer. They don’t and it’s not close.There were subsequent reports that the Spurs had resumed talking to the Lakers along with Boston – but prefer the Celtics’ young players, especially Jaylen Brown, another thing that looked likely all along.On Friday, Boston GM Danny Ainge called the possibility of a blockbuster deal “unlikely” … suggesting that he and the Spurs hadn’t found an easy deal to make.• Wherever Leonard is going, it might not be soon.James’ desire to move fast prompted last week’s stories about “pressure on the Lakers to make a deal for Kawhi.” Pressure on them to make a deal with a team that doesn’t intend to trade Kawhi to them?Yeah, right. Someone (James?) was hoping for something (Kawhi to the Lakers) that wasn’t happening.• George’s likelihood of coming to the Lakers continues to rise as Leonard’s falls.ESPN reported Friday that he will opt out of his last season in Oklahoma City … ending any Thunder scenario in which he waited another year for his maximum extension and helped them rebuild. Nevertheless, insiders say George might still opt to return to OKC.Of course, the Lakers could also give this slot to Chris Paul if James insists.If LeBron leaves it up to the Lakers, they figure to prefer maxing out the 28-year-old PG to the 33-year-old, oft-injured CP3.The Lakers might even be able to get three stars with sign-and-trades … with the proper flexibility and orchestration, of course.• Showing there’s no limit to where this story can go, ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, who sounds like he has a line to someone who’s involved, said Thursday that James has been texting Kevin Durant, a free agent who’s expected to re-sign with Golden State, to ask if he would team up on the Lakers.• Houston remains an option for James, albeit a problematic one.With no young players to send the Cavs in a sign-and-trade, the only path would be slashing their roster for cap space – and asking James to join a talented skeleton crew.• The 76ers remain eager to get into this.As one of two teams with the cap room to sign James, Philadelphia was the other potential destination that gained when LeBron opted out. Nevertheless, it remains to be seen what interest LeBron has in them.• Cleveland made the top two, anyway. Insiders think it has come down to the Lakers and Cavaliers – but opting out put the Cavs even more at arm’s length than James already had when he told them he wouldn’t be available to them before the draft.LeBron orchestrates. It’s what he does. But as much as he loves Ohio, he’s not orchestrating anything with the Cavaliers.This was yet another easy call after an agonizing season in which the Cavs changed out almost half their roster in a desperate attempt to rebuild on the fly.Their last hope was a miracle finish that tempted James to entrust the rest of his career to owner Dan Gilbert, who couldn’t build a great team around him before he left or after he returned … and, oh, yes, once excoriated him, vowing revenge on the “cowardly … so-called King.”Actually, the Cavs did pull off a miracle, reaching the Finals. It just wasn’t a big enough miracle.Relative to their competition in the East, they’re in worse shape than in 2010 when James left.That season they were coming off a first-place finish with the aged Celtics their only competition.Last season they finished fourth, nine games behind the rising Celtics who didn’t have Gordon Hayward or, after mid-March, Kyrie Irving.So much for the months of speculation. Finally, happily, real life awaits.Mark Heisler has written an NBA column since 1991 and was honored with the Naismith Hall of Fame’s Curt Gowdy Award in 2006. His weekly column runs regularly on Sundays for Southern California News Group print editions.last_img

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *