The Golden State Warriors are a team in turmoil.
That turmoil can be seen on the basketball court, as the Warriors stack up blown leads like they're building with blocks. It can also be seen off the court, as news leaks out about veterans frustrated about being benched for young players, and young players frustrated about being benched for veterans. If winning cures all ills, losing only heightens them.
Andrew Wiggins is having his worst season since joining the Warriors. Draymond Green has been suspended again, this time indefinitely, for back-handing Jusuf Nurkic. Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody are having their playing time yanked around, and both are frustrated enough to let that be known through the media.
Steve Kerr faces a nearly impossible task, to balance underperforming veterans and overperfirming youngsters and decide who to play on any given night. Stephen Curry is still amazing, but the players around him are too similar to make a rotation obvious. No matter who Kerr decides to play, other players will be frustrated.
That uncertainty has led to constantly changing lineups, both the starting lineup and the closing groups. One night Kuminga and Podziemski close, the next it's Chris Paul and Andrew Wiggins. Each new variation confuses and stresses out the players, and without obvious success as they continue to wobble around .500.
The Warriors aren't the only team struggling
There is another team just down the coast having a similar problem.
The Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA Championship just four seasons ago, and like the Warriors they have an aging superstar still playing at a high level. In fact, LeBron is still an All-NBA force at the age of 39. That's virtually unheard of, and it is enough to give the Lakers hope that they can win another title.
The issue has been the rest of the supporting cast. The veterans that the Lakers hoped to rely on have been unreliable, while the few young players haven't taken the expected step forward. There have been injuries and poor performances and plenty of frustration.
Just as Steve Kerr is under fire from frustrated players, Darvin Ham no longer has the confidence of every player on his roster. Ham's wheels are spinning and they aren't finding purchase, and the roster isn't willing to wait around forever for him to figure it out. He has used three starting lineups in as many games, and his players leaked to the media that they were unhappy with Ham and not confident in his ability to manage the team.
The difference between the two teams is that Kerr still has the confidence of his core players, let alone general manager Mike Dunleavy and the organization. Winning four titles will do a little something for job security. Ham, on the other hand, appears to be losing his relationship with LeBron James.
LeBron is now 39 years old; as successfully as he has defeated Father Time to this point, he doesn't have forever to punt another season mired in turmoil and disappointment. Last year the Lakers pulled off a couple of trades midway through the season and turned their outlook around.
What if this time, instead of a trade fixing the cast around LeBron, the superstar forward decides he can't truly compete for another title in Los Angeles and casts his gaze elsewhere?
Could the Lakers trade LeBron James?
That's the line of thought posited by longtime podcaster and media member Bill Simmons, known equally for his Celtics fandom, his love of basketball and his bold takes. In a recent podcast with Howard Beck, the two discussed the possibility of LeBron and the Lakers agreeing it was time to move on.
The two worked through a variety of trade ideas. Given LeBron's age it only makes sense for him to go to a contender, so they worked through the list of teams in both conferences that could potentially trade for The King. Then their gaze landed on The Bay and the possibility that the Warriors could trade for James.
It's obviously a wild idea to consider, but if you accept the initial premise it's one worth thinking about. LeBron would give Kerr and the Warriors a forward who can handle the ball and score, and there would be no doubts about who would be finishing games.
There would be a narrative element to such a move as well. LeBron and Curry have met four different times in the NBA Finals and would now be paired up, the two greatest players of the last twenty years. Draymond and LeBron have become off-court friends and business partners.
Perhaps most appealing of all, LeBron would finally team up with Chris Paul, the only member of his group of friends that he has never played on an NBA team with. Depending on how you rank them, that's three of the 25 or so best players in NBA history all on the same team, with another pair of Hall of Famers in Klay Thompson and Draymond Green there as well.
The Lakers would retool around Anthony Davis, with Austin Reaves and whichever young players come from the Warriors to build out a new core. That could include Jonathan Kuminga, who could see if his frustration would transfer to a new coach or whether he would get the opportunity to spread his wings.
The odds of this deal happening are quite low. It's far more likely that this fracture between the players and Darvin Ham is solved by Ham being fired; it would hardly be the first time LeBron has exerted influence and seen a coach fired. Even if they keep Ham, the options to make changes around LeBron will almost certainly be exercised instead of moving LeBron himself.
However unlikely it is, it's certainly an exciting proposition to consider. LeBron James and Stephen Curry, battling for one last title, is quite the storybook ending for both. If LeBron ever does demand a trade, it may be worth it to get the Warriors on the phone, just in case.