Three LeBron James Trade Destinations

LeBron James
LeBron James / Ezra Shaw/GettyImages

The NBA trade deadline is on Thursday and time is running out for a few teams hoping to reach contender status. The most notable of those is the Los Angeles Lakers. After winning the NBA In-Season Tournament, the Lakers have been decidedly average and currently hold the ninth seed in the Western Conference with a 26-25 record. Most damning about that record is that LeBron James and Anthony Davis have played nearly all of those games together. They've dealt with injuries in the rotation but the whole idea behind this roster construction is that Los Angeles will win far more often than they lose if they have LeBron and AD fully healthy.

It seems that was a flawed line of thinking. LeBron simply has too many miles on his legs to regularly drive his team to wins and Davis is only capable of doing so once every few games. It's become apparent that this version of the roster isn't good enough to compete with the true monsters of the West like the Nuggets, which has led the larger NBA world to conclude that LeBron's only hope at capturing his fifth NBA title is to leave Los Angeles. And the quickest way to do that is to get traded this week.

This idea garnered so much momentum last week (aided by some cryptic tweets from The King) that LeBron's agent, Rich Paul, had to release a public statement saying his camp was not asking for or expecting a trade. This has not stemmed the tide of discussion, though, as evidenced by an ESPN radio segment from this morning.

The statement from Paul obviously means the chances of a deal are extremely slim but it also wouldn't be the first time Klutch has misdirected the general public in pursuit of the best possible deal. So while it is not likely we cannot afford to rule out the possibility. The King is making $47 million this year with a player option for next season, so his contract is effectively expiring.

A LeBron trade would be... complicated. The Lakers would only trade him if he approved of the deal. He'd want to go to a team that is capable of winning a title this year. But in order to be capable of winning a title an interested team could not afford to give up assets of much value other than draft picks. The Lakers would have to feel like they're not losing LeBron for nothing. It makes for an extremely narrow window of opportunity for all sides.

What would those deals look like? Here are a few possibilities.

Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder are the favorites for any trade they decide they want to pull off. This would certainly quality. OKC has approximately one million draft picks to offer up for LeBron. They have a hole at small forward that he would fill perfectly. They've reached contending status earlier than expected and boast a roster loaded with young talent but lacking in postseason experience. If LeBron was serious about getting another ring as soon as possible, this is the likeliest scenario.

The Lakers can select whichever of the 14 first-round picks the Thunder have in the next seven drafts. OKC has to include at least Davis Bertans and Lu Dort in any potential deal for LeBron, which is already a good starting point for LA-- an expiring contract and a quality two-way role player. The Thunder need a third contract worth something close to $7 million to match salary, which could be Josh Giddey or a combination of Jaylin Williams and Ousmane Dieng. Maybe LA can even get Jalen Williams out of the deal. The Thunder have the draft capital and expendable talent to construct pretty much any deal the Lakers can envision that does not include Shai Gilgeous-Alexander or Chet Holmgren. They're title contenders on top of all that. This is almost certainly the deal that would happen if LeBron wants out.

Minnesota Timberwolves

The Wolves check a few of the required boxes. They are absolutely contenders, owning the top seed in the West for most of this season. They have an aggressive front office eager to take big swings. And their roster has enough talent that they could give up a quality player without sacrificing a shot at a title. I realize how hard it is to imagine LeBron James in a Minnesota Timberwolves uniform, but it feels like one of the strongest possibilities.

Why? Because the Wolves can offer up Karl-Anthony Towns. They love KAT up in Minnesota but he is the guy they would trade in this scenario. LeBron isn't as good of a shooter so the spacing next to Rudy Gobert gets more cramped, which isn't ideal, but James can soak up the power forward minutes from Towns without much trouble and fits well next to Naz Reid. Minnesota would have to give up another piece to match the salaries-- probably Kyle Anderson's $9 million deal-- but swapping Towns and Anderson's minutes for LeBron is a trade-off they'll make every time. He helps cover the lack of postseason experience on the roster, can play with Gobert, and could be an incredible mentor for Anthony Edwards. The Lakers get a talented young big man to trade or play next to Anthony Davis. It's not an unrealistic deal, even if Minnesota can't offer draft capital that will convey anytime soon.

New York Knicks

The surging Knicks have won 13 of their last 16 games and are forcing themselves back into the national discussion. Jalen Brunson is the best story in basketball and OG Anunoby is thriving in his new home. But New York will be hard-pressed to win a title without some more scoring punch; Julius Randle is too inconsistent to be relied upon as a No. 2 option and Brunson is simply too small to lead the way as a championship No. 1 option. Acquiring LeBron would certainly solve a lot of problems and you'd expect The King to be thrilled about suiting up in orange and blue given the respect he and other all-time greats show Madison Square Garden.

New York is the worst team on this list and thus have a much smaller margin in terms of what they can trade while remaining competitive. But sending out Randle and Evan Fournier is good enough to make the money work. LeBron and Randle are too similar style-wise to coexist on a team without elite shooting and Fournier has been waiting for this trade forever. Then the Knicks can attach every single draft pick possible to the package. They have three in the 2024 draft from other teams and two in 2025 along with all of their own selections for the foreseeable future, which leads to a sum total of eight-10 first-rounders. Not too shabby for the Lakers, who can flip Randle for additional assets, and the Knicks get their star they've been chasing.