Road to Repeat: Lakers shouldn’t be worrying about life after Lebron

Orange sports stock image.

LeBron James is 36 years old and has evaded “Father Time” thus far. But every game he plays, every 38-minute night James takes command of his team, feels like it adds another mile onto his odometer. Eventually, the tank that has spurred LeBron on through 18 arduous seasons will run out of gas. “The King” won’t be around the league much longer; his championship window shrinks day by day. LeBron needs to win now.

Storied franchises like the Lakers garner high expectations. There is no room for error when it comes to the front office and basketball operations; you don’t hang 17 championship banners by regularly making errors. However, with the clock ticking down to 12 p.m. and the trade deadline on the horizon, general manager Rob Pelinka made a grave mistake that could come back to haunt his Lakers when the playoffs come around. 

Pelinka refused to include 20-year old guard Talen Horton-Tucker in a trade proposal for Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry, according to Shams Charania of Stadium.  

From Pelinka’s perspective, this makes some sense. Lowry is 35 years old, and his contract expires after this season. Horton-Tucker, on the other hand, is under team control during his restricted free agency period. 

In order to match salaries, the proposed trade would have likely sent Dennis Schroeder and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope packing along with Horton-Tucker, on a one-way train to Toronto. Because Lowry is a free agent in the upcoming offseason, trading for him at the deadline would have meant he was a possible season rental if he were to decide to sign elsewhere. Losing three rotation players would have decimated the Lakers’ depth for the season while losing what could be a special talent in Horton-Tucker. 

Lowry may be 35, chasing another championship on his last legs, but we know exactly who he is, and who he’ll be in the postseason. When palms start to get sweaty and every possession feels like life or death, Lowry is a proven playoff performer. He put up 26 points and 10 assists against Golden State in Game 6 of the 2019 Finals to put the reigning champs to bed and bring Toronto its first NBA Championship. Just last season in the bubble, Lowry backed down Kemba Walker and hit a fadeaway jumper against the Celtics in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals to ice the game and keep the Raptors’ season alive. 

Lowry is capable of netting double-digit scoring totals in any game while controlling the pace of play with his playmaking ability. We saw how effective Lowry can be next to a superstar like Kawhi Leonard; imagine the six-time All Star running and gunning next to the likes of James and Anthony Davis. Lowry would not be a detriment to the Lakers No. 1 defensive rating in the association either, as the high-IQ veteran would fit right into head coach Frank Vogel’s defensive schemes. 

Horton-Tucker can be a star down the line, but he is still a few years away from being an effective piece in the playoffs. Caldwell-Pope, amid yet another shooting slump, shot 34.1% from three in March. Schroeder has been the Lakers third best player all season, but he reportedly turned down a four-year, 84 million dollar extension offer from the Lakers, showing the two sides are not on the same page. 

During James’ first season with the Lakers in 2018, former general manager Magic Johnson said, “now it is Cleveland all over again, and we don’t want that,” when asked about the Lakers’ handling of James’ workload. Front offices around the league have noted the state of James’ teams after he signs elsewhere. Letting go of multiple future assets to assist James in his quest for a title left both the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Miami Heat in the draft lottery the season after James announced his departure. 

Horton-Tucker’s potential to be a legitimate scorer in this league made it difficult for Pelinka to throw him into a deal for a 35-year old Lowry. Through the corner of his eye, Pelinka spotted a quick sneak peak of life after LeBron, and it wasn’t so pretty. 

But when the Lakers signed James to a four-year contract, they threw the youth movement out the window, eventually packaging a plethora of young players for the superstar Anthony Davis. Implicit in the move was the understanding that there is no “life after LeBron”; all that matters is winning as many championships as possible while James wears the purple and gold. Just ask Heat or Cavs fans those championships are worth it. 

Sahil Kurup is a freshman writing about the Los Angeles Lakers. His column, “Road to Repeat,” runs every other Friday.