LeBron to the Lakers This Summer? Not So Fast, According to a New Report

Folks around the NBA have murmured for more than a year now about LeBron James' purported interest in bolting to Los Angeles when he has the opportunity to opt out of his contract during the 2018 offseason. Would he really leave his hometown team twice in his career? That remains to be seen. But people around the league have suspected as much—and suspected that he's headed for Los Angeles—for a long time now.

LeBron owns two houses in L.A., and conquering the West would provide him with a new challenge—a new potential legacy boost, if you will. Also, the Lakers have a wealth of cap space, a promising young roster, and a storied history. If he could bring them back to prominence, well, it would do a ton for LeBron's place in the history books. Of the two L.A. franchises, it seemed way likelier that LeBron would desire a spot on the roster of the Lake Show.

According to a new report from two of the most plugged-in NBA reporters, however, the Lakers may pass on pursuing LeBron this offseason. As Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN report, the Lakers are focusing their efforts—and their cap space—on the free-agent class of 2019 rather than that of 2018. The 2019 class is indeed ripe with young talent; Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson, and Jimmy Butler could be among the players on the market.

In 2018, it's expected that LeBron, Paul George, and DeMarcus Cousins will be available. But LeBron, as great as he is, is 33, George seems very interested in sticking with the Thunder, and Cousins just suffered an absolutely debilitating Achilles injury.

This recalibration also reportedly stems from the Lakers' lack of belief that LeBron is actually interested in joining the team. Though L.A. has a bunch of gifted young players—including Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Kyle Kuzma—there isn't a bona fide star on the roster. LBJ would be taking a big risk by signing with the yellow and purple.

A lot could change in the next few months, of course. The Lakers are still reportedly shopping Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson. But with this latest report, it looks a lot less certain that LeBron will head to Hollywood this summer.

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Kawhi-Spurs Drama; John Wall “Midget” Diss; All-Star Reserve Picks | Out of Bounds

In anticipation of tonight’s announcement of the 2018 NBA All-Star Reserves, the #OutofBounds crew makes their own picks (and heated arguments) for the 14 players who should be all-stars. Next, Gil, Adam, and Pierce weigh in on the report that the handling of Kawhi Leonard’s injury has caused friction between him and the Spurs. To close the show, the team decides the fairness/foulness of the Bucks firing head coach Jason Kidd and John Wall calling J.J. Barea “a little midget.”

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Kawhi Leonard’s Injury Rehab Reportedly Straining Relationship With Spurs

There's a joke in here somewhere about Kawhi Leonard actually being made of liquid metal and incapable of human emotion, but this does bear emphasizing: this is not quite a big deal.

Not yet.

According to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, Michael C. Wright and Zach Lowe, Leonard's frustrating rehab and possible comeback from a right quadricep injury has had a “chilling impact” on the relationship between the All-Star swingman and the San Antonio Spurs. The report included words like “rift” and “distant” and “disconnected,” which has Spurs fans responding today with their own words, everything from, “Yeah, but remember LaMarcus Aldridge? to “OMFG OMFG OMFG.”

Leonard played just nine games this season before the Spurs shut him down indefinitely last week. In limited minutes, Leonard was still productive, nearly matching his career-high PER from last season and with a usage rate among the league's top 15. However, the team struggled to win just five of those games and the 26-year-old admitted to the team's brass that he didn't feel confident in his body.

“You've got to be confident in your body to go out there and play at the level he's expect to play,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich told ESPN at the time. “We didn't feel he was ready. His confidence level wasn't there. So we decided to give it some more time.”

On the eve of the season, we watched as San Antonio announced Leonard would be out for the entire preseason and perhaps more, only to eventually hear Popovich admit he'd never seen anything like Leonard's injury. Then we saw Tony Parker return from a similar, though even more severe injury. Since September, there's been a weird Belichickian mystery surrounding Leonard. The Spurs haven't offered answers. Neither have some of the world's best tendon experts. General manager RC Buford has denied any rift, but he did acknowledge the entire process has been difficult for both sides.

There is no real precedent for a star player growing frustrated in the vacuum of San Antonio's safe haven. Popovich tried to sign Jason Kidd in 2003, effectively telling Tony Parker thanks, but no thanks. Parker didn't bolt. He's played his entire career with the Spurs. Popovich sent Manu Ginobili to the bench in 2007, even though Ginobili was already an All-Star. Manu embraced it. Tim Duncan took repeated lyrical undressings in practices over the years and never once did he respond with, “Pop, I'm a 15-time All-Star and five-time champ, the undisputed best power forward of all time. I'm allowed to miss one defensive assignment.” Even LaMarcus Aldridge, after asking for a trade last summer, ended up submitting to some weird Pop voodoo. The veteran is now playing perhaps the best ball of his career.

Leonard's camp has since denied the report. Leonard does hold a player option for the 2019-2020 season, which might make things interesting. Knowing the Spurs, though, they'll take Leonard to some off the radar bunker if necessary, sit him down, and not let anyone out until a resolution is found. Until then, everything surrounding one of the NBA's best players will likely remain a mystery.

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Ray Allen Catfished; Tony Parker’s Not A Great Player | Out Of Bounds

On today’s episode of #OutofBounds, things get heated when Gilbert says Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard don’t make a difference for the Spurs. The team considers getting in the ring with Floyd Mayweather. Gilbert Arenas has some words for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and he has the scoop on why Derrick Rose needs to stay in the league to get the bag from Adidas. Take notes!

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The Clippers Are Reportedly Taking the Chris Paul-Spurs Rumors ‘Very Seriously’

Chris Paul is expected to opt out of the final year of his contract with the Clippers so he can test free agency, and he and the Spurs reportedly have “mutual interest.”

In basic theory, the mutual attraction makes sense: at this point in his career, Paul wants a title. The Spurs want to overtake Golden State, and they’re probably one star away from making a real run at it. Paul is one of the 20-or-so best NBA players of all-time, and he's still performing at an elite caliber.

In practicality, the situation is a lot more nuanced. The Spurs’ hands are tied with the cap and their current roster. (One example: Pau Gasol has a $16.2 million player option that he'll almost certainly be accepting.) It could happen, but it’d take a lot of maneuvering.

Nonetheless, the Clippers are taking the threat of the Spurs seriously, according to Marc Stein.

The Clippers may have reason to fear Pop and company's lurking eyes. The Spurs are one of the shrewdest organizations in professional sports. If they decide they want a player, they can probably figure out a way to get him, even if it involves some contract jockeying.

The Clippers could give Paul five years and $210 million, or he could command four years and $153.5 million from another squad. He’d be leaving quite a bit of money of the table if he signed with anyone other than the Clippers. But he doesn't seem to want a Melo-esque fate.

Say he does really want to join the Spurs, passing up money for a better chance to win the title. Could the Spurs make it happen? They could, though it would likely involve trading away an important player like Danny Green and letting Jonathon Simmons and Patty Mills go elsewhere. There’s a good breakdown of the full “what would need to happen” on SB Nation.

Say all the pieces can fall into place. Should the Spurs do it? That depends on what the organization’s highest priority is—which I certainly can't speak to. 

If it’s winning now and overtaking Golden State next year or the year after that, then yes, Paul makes them a better team. He fits well with their pieces, particularly LaMarcus Aldridge, who could undergo a career resurrection with Paul's assistance. They would make a lethal pick-and-pop duo. With Paul at the point, Kawhi Leonard on the wing, and L.A. on the block, San Antonio’s ability to control the pace and space the floor may give Golden State all it could handle.

If San Antonio is building for five years down the road, however—if they consider the next couple years a lost cause—they probably need to pass on the 32-year-old point guard and focus on holding onto and developing their current pieces. Simmons (27), Mills (28), and Dewayne Dedmon (27) are all championship-caliber rotation players, and Dejounte Murray, the Spurs’ 20-year-old point guard, has shown some promise.

It would likely make more sense to commit less money to a free agent point guard like Kyle Lowry (Tier II), George Hill (Tier III), or Jeff Teague (Tier IV). The Spurs also have the 29th pick in this year's loaded draft. They could either look to move up the board and pick an elite prospect or stay put and select a guard who's being slept on, such as Dwayne Bacon (Florida State), Nigel Williams-Goss (Gonzaga), or Josh Hart (Villanova).

Send all complaints, compliments, and tips to sportstips@complex.com.

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Gregg Popovich Takes Aim at Zaza Pachulia Over His ‘Dangerous, Unsportsmanlike’ Play on Kawhi Leonard

Whether or not Zaza Pachulia intentionally tried to hurt Kawhi Leonard, his questionable closeout was a topic of hot debate after Game 1 of the Spurs vs. Warriors series. But there is no debate in Coach Gregg Popovich's mind, and he went off on Golden State's center during Monday's mid-day gathering with the media.

Popovich called the play “dangerous” and “unsportsmanlike” in an amazing rant that lasted over 90 seconds. You can catch most of it in the video above, and the full transcript of his remarks on Pachulia below:

The two step, lead with your foot closeout is not appropriate. It's dangerous, it's unsportsmanlike, it's just not what anybody does to anybody else. 

This particular individual has a history with that kind of action. You can look back at Dallas games where he got a flagrant 2 for elbowing Patty Mills. The play where he took Kawhi down and locked his arm in Dallas, could have broken his arm. Ask David West, his current teammate, how things went, when Zaza was playing for Dallas and he and David got into it. And then think about the history he's had and what that means to a team, what happened last night. A totally unnatural closeout that the league has outlawed years ago, and pays great attention to, and Kawhi's not there. And you want to know how we feel about it?

You want to know if that lessens our chances or not. We're playing very possibly the best team in the league—we don't know what's going to happen in the East—and 9.75 people out of 10 would figure the Warriors will beat the Spurs. Well, we've had a pretty damn good season, we've played fairly well in the playoffs, I think we're getting better. We're up 23 points in the third quarter, against Golden State, and Kawhi goes down like that, and you want to know if our chances are less? And you want to know how we feel? That's how we feel. 

Popovich has never been afraid to speak his mind, whether he's ranting about Donald Trump or going off on the officials, and this is a blistering rant on a play that knocked his star player out of the game. He may catch a big fine for calling an opponent out as a dirty player, but there was no way he was going to let Leonard's injury go by without a comment.

He certainly has an axe to grind here, but Coach Pop is an authority on the sport with a long history of facing Pachulia as an opponent. Even if you're not a Spurs fan, his words are worth considering.

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Zaza Pachulia May Have Tried to Intentionally Injure Kawhi Leonard in Game 1

The Warriors have a huge talent advantage over basically every other team in the NBA, including their opponent and the Western Conference Finals, the San Antonio Spurs. That tends to happen when you have a 73-win squad and then add Kevin Durant in free agency.

So they probably shouldn't have to resort to goon tactics to edge out a win in Game 1—or any other game—of a playoff series. But judging by the video you see up top, it looks like Warriors center Zaza Pachulia takes an extra hop in order to crowd Kawhi Leonard's landing zone, a move that has long been derided as a dirty play in the basketball community. It was made even worse by the fact that Leonard had tweaked the same ankle just a few minutes beforehand, which makes it look like Pachulia targeted Leonard.

People were not happy to see Leonard go down at all, and the nature of the injury made it a lot worse. Pachulia quickly became public enemy No. 1 of the Twitter-verse, and the outcry only got louder after the Warriors immediately went on an 18-0 run once Leonard hit the bench:

The outrage wasn't limited to fans following along at home. NBA TV's Sam Mitchell discussed the play after the game, and he thought the intent was clear.

“That is just a dirty, dirty play,” said Mitchell. “And there's no room for it in the game.”

For Spurs fans who once rooted for Bruce Bowen—notorious for pulling moves like the one from Pachulia—there was a bit of hypocrisy in the outrage at the play that injured Leonard. Neutral observers (and Warriors fans!) were happy to point out the disconnect:

Intent is the hardest thing for fans, coaches, and players to judge, even with the benefit of replay. Pachulia is never going to admit he intentionally tried to injure another player, and in all likelihood this play will eventually get buried in the footnotes of Golden State's eventual 2017 championship yearbook. But that doesn't make the play any less suspicious, or make up for the fact that Leonard may not be able to go for the rest of the series. 

Send all complaints, compliments, and tips to sportstips@complex.com.

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Lil B Offers to Lift Curse From James Harden Following Horrendous Playoff Performance

What in the world happened to James Harden during the Rockets’ elimination playoff game against the Spurs on Thursday night? That’s the question that many NBA fans both inside and outside of Houston were asking after San Antonio destroyed the Rockets 114-75 to advance to the Western Conference Finals, where they will face off against the Warriors.

The Spurs played Game 6 of their series against the Rockets without the services of their superstar Kawhi Leonard, who suffered an ankle injury in Game 5, but Harden played so poorly against the Spurs that it didn’t even matter. He scored just 10 points on 2-of-11 shooting and committed six turnovers during the game. And worse, he looked disinterested in playing for most of the night, which caused more than a few fans to question what he was doing:

To his credit, Harden shouldered the blame for the blowout loss after the game.

“Everything falls on my shoulders,” he said. “I take responsibility for it, both ends of the floor. You know, it’s tough, especially the way we lost at home for Game 6. But it happened. Now we move forward.”

Harden, who didn’t score his first points of the game against the Spurs until almost the six-minute mark in the second quarter, also said that the Rockets simply struggled to get into any sort of rhythm at the start of the game.

“I feel like I was making some passes, and we just didn’t knock down shots or whatever the case may be,” said Harden, who averaged 28.5 points and 8.5 assists during the Rockets’ playoff run. “As a team, as a unit, we didn’t have a rhythm, and they capitalized on that.”

And while there might be some truth to that, Harden himself was so bad that some people accused him of fixing the game, as if that was the only explanation for his putrid performance:

But Lil B saw things differently. Way back in May 2015, the rapper called Harden out for stealing his cooking dance and threatened to curse him:

Rockets fans begged Lil B not to put his infamous Based God Curse on Harden, but it was to no avail. Harden continued to use the cooking dance, and eventually, Lil B cursed him. And it looked like there was something to that curse after Harden put up a terrible 14-point, 12-turnover performance against the Warriors during an elimination game in the 2015 NBA Playoffs. He also shot just 2-of-11 from the field in that game.

Lil B briefly lifted the curse from Harden in June 2015, but it didn't last. He credited the curse with helping Harden set a new NBA record for most turnovers in a single season in April 2016:

He also warned Harden about using the cooking dance again this past April and reminded him about the curse:

And as recently as just last week, he spoke with ESPN’s The Undefeated about the curse and said Harden “is the only player in the NBA that’s cursed” at the moment. Kevin Durant had been subjected to the Based God Curse in the past, but Lil B lifted it after he joined the Warriors last summer.

But is the curse really the reason Harden played as poorly as he did against the Spurs on Thursday night? We can’t believe we’re actually saying this, but it’s as good an explanation as some of the others we’ve seen. There are literally people who think Harden threw the game to benefit the mafia, so who are we to say that the Based God Curse didn’t play a role in Harden’s struggles?

Whatever the case may be, Lil B is now offering to lift the curse from Harden—if he’s willing to put his ego to the side and talk to Lil B this offseason. Shortly after the Rockets got bounced from the playoffs, Lil B sent out this tweet:

And plenty of people responded to it by urging Harden to pick up the phone and call Lil B to have the curse lifted:

Whether you buy into this Based God Curse business or not, it’s clear that something wasn’t right with Harden on Thursday night. So it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea for him to take whatever steps he feels are necessary—including possibly calling Lil B—to correct the problems he had before next season rolls around. Otherwise, this curse might continue to haunt him.

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