Break up the Lakers.
The … Lakers?
The Lakers, the team Rob Pelinka misassembled (I’ve written some version of that), LeBron James couldn’t carry (ditto) and Anthony Davis couldn’t stay healthy enough to support (well … ). The team that reacted to last season’s 33-win disaster by ousting the person (Frank Vogel) least responsible for it.
That’s right … the Lakers.
The Lakers—the Davis-less Lakers—have won five in a row after Saturday’s win in Sacramento. It wasn’t easy. They had to battle De’Aaron Fox, the Kings’ would-be (should-be?) All-Star who shredded them for 34 points. They had to contend with Domantas Sabonis, the broken-thumbed big man who chipped in 25 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists. They had to survive what looked like (the NBA says otherwise) an egregiously bad blown call by the referees in the closing seconds of regulation, a whistle that turned a potential three-point play by Russell Westbrook into one free throw and opened the door for Fox to send the game to overtime.
They did it with Westbrook, who sports betting sites have remarkably installed as the favorite to win Sixth Man. With Thomas Bryant, one of the best value contracts in the NBA. With Dennis Schröder, who is on the kind of scoring binge that makes you remember why the Lakers once considered committing $84 million to him.
And they did it with LeBron James.
James scored 37 points against Sacramento. The night before, against Atlanta, he scored 25. A few nights before that it was 43. A few nights before that, on his birthday—James’s 38th—he scored 47. In December he had more 30-plus point games (eight) than fewer (six).
In the age of the ageless athlete, James is doing things we’ll never see again. Sure, Michael Jordan was dropping 40-point games in his age-40 season, but those two Wizards years were more itch-scratching for Jordan, whose Washington teams never cracked 37 wins. No one thought MJ, in between knee drains, was capable of leading a team to the Finals. James very much looks like he can.
The numbers are astonishing. James is averaging eight rebounds. He’s handing out seven assists. He’s shooting 51% from the floor. StatMuse recently tweeted out a list of scoring numbers for players in their 20th seasons. Vince Carter averaged 5.4. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who James is closing in on for the NBA scoring record, put up 10.1. Kobe Bryant? 17.6. James is averaging 29.1.
Everyone is impressed. “Phenomenal,” was how Lakers coach Darvin Ham framed James’s recent run. “Masterful,” tweeted Kevin Durant. Paul Pierce, a longtime James rival, called James the GOAT. On the Lakers postgame show, James Worthy described James as an “old uncle,” saying, “you know you’re younger than he is, quicker than he is, but you just can’t beat him.”
Now … will the Lakers help him?
The will-they-or-won’t-they make a trade has been a season-long narrative in Los Angeles. We all know the story. The Lakers have two first-round picks they can offer, in 2027 and ’29. They have Westbrook’s expiring $47 million contract. They have a couple of live-ish bodies in Patrick Beverley and Kendrick Nunn. That’s about it.
LeBron wants them to use it. All of it. Stuff every asset—particularly the draft picks—in a UPS envelope and see what you can get for it. There’s no sourcing here. It’s him, at least indirectly. He not-so-subtly called for more shooting in October when he said the Lakers “aren’t sitting here with a lot of lasers on our team.” Last month he went out of his way to answer a question about how long he wants to play with “I don’t want to finish my career playing at this level from a team aspect.” When pressed by The Athletic on Saturday about L.A.’s approach to the trade deadline, James reportedly said, “Y’all know what the f— should be happening.”
Think that found its way onto Jeanie Buss’s timeline?
Make no mistake—this isn’t an easy call. The end result of this five-game winning streak has the Lakers sitting half a game back of the final play-in spot. Davis appears to be moving closer to a return, but any time “stress injury” and “foot” are in the same sentence you have to be worried. In a sellers market where no superstar appears available, the Lakers could be forced to overpay for players who make them only mildly better.
But LeBron wants it. In a reply to The Athletic story James tweeted, “my patience isn’t waning” and “my job is the locker room.” Fine. But James isn’t interested in the Lakers’ long-term future, when he’ll be running an entertainment company or owning an NBA team in Las Vegas. That’s an L.A. problem. Not his. Come to think of it, is Pelinka? What’s Pelinka more likely to be doing in 2027 if he doesn’t trade the picks, running the Lakers or negotiating contracts with them?
This feels like an ownership decision. Again: Buss and the Lakers can make a perfectly reasonable case that surrendering a first-round pick for Bogdan Bogdanović or Christian Wood is foolish and pushing all your chips in for Myles Turner and Buddy Hield (a package that is probably no longer available) doesn’t make sense. The Lakers are going to exist post-LeBron so unless a trade brings back an All-Star (Bradley Beal), L.A. has to consider its long-term future.
LeBron doesn’t. He’s playing at an All-NBA level. Davis, who was playing at an MVP level before this most recent injury, is nearing a return, and there’s no way a competitor like James is looking at the Western Conference field and thinking Denver, Memphis and New Orleans are unbeatable. It doesn’t matter how the Lakers get into the playoffs. James has to believe that with a healthy Davis and a little help, he can beat any team once they get there.
James has been clear about what he wants.
The Lakers have a month to decide whether they want to give it to him.