The Los Angeles Lakers, coming off the Dwight Howard debacle which intertwined nicely with the disgraceful decision making process behind their current coach, have now declared themselves out of the LeBron James enticement business. I don’t think that will be enough to stop a year’s worth of speculation as to where LeBron may be going off to next year, including occasionally from yours truly, but it did provide some insight into the internal thinking of the utter mess that is the Lakers at the moment.
We’re currently at the point of “The Godfather” where the family business has been passed from Vito Corleone, meaning Jerry Buss, to Sonny Corleone, meaning Jimmy Buss. Lakers fans are waiting for Michael Corleone, meaning Jeanie Buss, to come back and straighten things out.
So while we’re witnessing the drama in the front office, it was a mere blip in the news that there were leaks from the Lakers front office that they will refuse to get involved in adding the best player on the planet to one of the “Rolex Franchises” of the NBA. That’s right, someone was telling reporters – off the record of course – that the Lakers would not attempt to wine and dine LeBron James if/when he opts out of his current contract with Miami and examines his opportunities around the NBA.
There is only one argument to be made with a straight face as to why adding LeBron isn’t possible…
The nature of the new CBA makes it difficult to put a number of huge stars on the same team while remaining under the salary cap. It would require creative thinking and creative destruction to produce enough cap space to lure LeBron or any other high quality free agent. It is possible, but, I concede, difficult to do if you want to stay under the cap and away from a luxury tax penalty. The estimable Larry Coon has more on why it’s so difficult under the current CBA.
If you accept the premise that the Lakers are like every other franchise and should be adhering to the salary Cap in order to make money, then the comments about refraining from spending big on LeBron in free agency seem completely reasonable. LeBron is going to cost a lot of money and Kobe already makes a ton himself [Eds. note: Kobe's contract is up at the end of the year]. So do several other veterans on the books.
I, however, do not accept that premise.
The Lakers organization is one of the most profitable in all of sports. How profitable? See Forbes’ recent estimate. The Lakers, despite being poised for a troublesome season in 2013-2014, are going to be extremely profitable coming off a $3.6 billion local television deal. They can afford to go over the salary cap for LeBron, hire Phil Jackson for the biggest payday in all of coaching, pay the luxury tax penalties, and still be making more money than I can even comprehend. They just don’t want to.
There seems to be a new ethos among modern executives, both in sports and elsewhere, that the goal of every season is profit maximization. Meaning that if the Lakers could make $500 million in profits this year after paying Phil Jackson and LeBron and the luxury tax to be primed to win another NBA Championship OR making $510 million while fielding a 30-win team going nowhere, it’s wise to do the latter. For a hedge fund manager, this is an easy calculation. But for a family owned business like the Lakers — whose supremacy comes from providing glitz, glamor, but most importantly winning — it’s akin to malpractice.
Now that we’ve taken money out of the equation, the other arguments against pursuing LeBron James are merely ridiculous.