The short answer to this question is yes, the Los Angeles Lakers are obviously already sending signals LeBron James’ way. That’s what you do when you’re getting ready, in advance, to pitch superstar free agents on joining your team.
The longer answer comes from ESPN.com’s Adrian Wojnarowski, who explained on ESPN’s The Jump how Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s arrival might be a sign that Lakers president Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka are all-in on pursuing the four-time MVP:
Rachel Nichols: Are they trying to butter up Rich Paul here? Put in a little early work on ‘LeBron 2018?’
Adrian Wojnarowski: From the day they got the job, they started to do it. And that’s their job. Their job here is to make the Lakers a destination place again for the biggest free agents in the game, and LeBron’s going to be the biggest free agent in the game next year. From the moment Detroit renounced Kentavious Caldwell-Pope—I had reported they had renounced him, he was now an unrestricted free agent—the Lakers were already on that.
Nichols: Is that a KCP thing? Or is that a LeBron-KCP thing.
Wojnarowski: It was both. Now, they would not have given $18 million in one-year deal to a guy that didn’t play at all. He’s a good young player. That deal for the Lakers is ultimately a great deal on a one-year contract. This is a player who people thought would get a four-year, $20 million-plus…that didn’t happen. But this is all part of the greater LeBron conversation, and the Lakers are going to be, just like they’re in full Paul George mode from now until July 1 next year, LeBron [mode] has started, and it started the day they took over.
While the Lakers probably won’t be the best basketball fit for James, they do figure to be a viable threat next summer—a stance that has almost nothing to do with them signing Caldwell-Pope, who, like LeBron, counts Rich Paul as an agent.
Instead, this is more about the Lakers being able to drum up nearly two max-contract slots if they really hit the salary-dumping lottery, giving James the option of joining forces with another star, such as George or DeMarcus Cousins. There’s also a scenario in which the Lakers keep KCP’s non-bird hold and dredge up $50-plus million in room; they’d have to dump Jordan Clarkson, Luol Deng and Julius Randle without taking back any money.
Unrealistic? Probably. But that would be one helluva selling point for LeBron if the Lakers can swing it.