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Less than two weeks away from beginning the defense of his first NBA championship in a marquee season-opening matchup with the Boston Celtics, Miami Heat forward LeBron James is answering questions about where he might theoretically play in two years, because Internet.
ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst — a reporter who has covered James since his time at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School — wrote a story published Thursday in which he quoted several anonymous league executives who say the feeling around the NBA is that the Los Angeles Lakers, fresh off reloading with center Dwight Howard and point guard Steve Nash in an effort to compete with James' champion Heat (provided, of course, they can get past the Oklahoma City Thunder), are lining things up with an eye toward eventually draping the King in forum blue and gold. The quick-and-dirty of it: LeBron can opt out of his contract after the 2013-14 season; the contracts of every Laker not named Nash (and, presumably, an extended Howard) expire after the 2013-14 season; the Lakers, loving stars and having money, would then pitch LeBron on coming to Hollywood.
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There are problems with this, as BDL editor Kelly Dwyer detailed Thursday, including the fact that the Lakers would have to totally sever ties with Bryant to shed his $30 million cap hold. Still, though, it's possible in theory and would be sensible in practice, and someone wrote about it, so it becomes a topic of conversation. ESPN.com's Michael Wallace conversed with LeBron about it, and James — shockingly! — dismissed the idle chatter as just that:
Responding to an ESPN.com report on Thursday that teams such as the Los Angeles Lakers already are plotting for the next time he potentially can become a free agent, James said his only focus is on helping the Heat defend their title.
"I'm here, and this is what it's all about," James said after the Heat's 105-78 preseason win over the Detroit Pistons on Thursday. "I'm preparing for this season, preparing to defend our title and that's it. This is where ... I'm here now." [...]
"That story, I don't know where it came from, but I understand why it came up because of who I am — it's going to happen," James told reporters after Miami's first preseason home game. "But I'm not going to worry about it. I've got to continue to stay focused with these guys and make sure we're ready for any challenges that come." [...]
"It's not frustrating," James said. "Guys are making stories every day. It doesn't matter to me. I'm true to my teammates. I'm here and this is what it's all about — us building and trying to get better as a team. Anyone can write a story. If you have ESPN, then it becomes credible. So do what you've got to do."
In the interest of fairness, I'd like to point out, as KD did in his analysis of the suggestion, that the guy who wrote this particular story isn't just "anyone" — it's Windhorst, a plugged-in reporter in his 10th year on the NBA beat with league-wide sources and connections, which is a bit different than the ever-popular (though now, thankfully, less so) straw man of "some dude in his mom's basement" just throwing something ridiculous against the wall to see if it sticks and if it'll generate attention. The end result, of course, is about the same — the conjuring of a hypothetical, theoretical story that bounces around like a speedball, evoking reaction and commentary and rending of garments, whether you take it seriously or not — but the generating point isn't. Rather than just a rabid fan's "NBA 2K13" roster machinations or fantasy lineup maneuverings, there are, presumably, actual people on the other side of those anonymous quotes.
That said, as Mike Prada noted at SB Nation on Thursday, those anonymous sources whom Windhorst quotes work for "opposing teams that are making their own long-range free agency plans," so it's not like we're getting a from-the-horse's-mouth scoop here (or even a "source with knowledge of the Lakers' thinking," or any of the other myriad ways of couching something an agent says). The grand takeaway is little more than, "Other teams think the Lakers plan ahead and try to get really good players," which I guess, if nothing else, shows that other teams have been paying attention these past few decades.
Also, as Prada and Dwyer and a bunch of other folks pointed out, the underlying thesis behind this discussion — the suggestion that a team would have interest in signing the best player in a free-agent class during an offseason in which they have salary cap space — constitutes roughly this level of news bulletin:
So, yeah, maybe we can just put a pin in this whole thing for two years. Until, y'know, we actually have a sense of what the Lakers' salary cap structure looks like, which other teams' rosters make them interesting enough to be in play and if LeBron coming off a run of three straight titles is still pretty OK with hanging out in South Beach for a few more years. Dwyane Wade would like that, anyway, according to Wallace:
"They [media] can leave my teammate alone, man," Wade said. "Get on with that. He's going to be here. We're straight. So they can go and mess with somebody else."
On the plus side, we now know have it on the record that LeBron is "here, and that's what it's all about," and that the Heat are "straight." Glad we could establish that.