With the NBA Trade Deadline just around the corner, LeBron James has yet to successfully sell his Lakers teammates on acquiring a trade partner. The only person who might be able to do so is Magic Johnson himself.

LeBron James May Be an Unofficial General Manager, But He's Powerless to Solve the Lakers' $19 Million Trade Deadline Problem

When the Los Angeles Lakers acquired Russell Westbrook from the Washington Wizards last summer, some predicted a nightmare. The Lakers’ fourth defeat in five games came in a last-second loss against the Los Angeles Clippers on Feb. 3. Not surprisingly, LeBron James was absent for the same time due to a painful left knee. Despite the fact that supporters are concocting season-saving bargains for LA, the reality for the squad is bleak.

On the cap sheet, there is no room for error. The Lakers have already surpassed the luxury tax threshold by more than $19 million. But, at the very least, they don’t have any easily tradeable contracts. Rather, the Lakers are fighting for a place in the play-in tournament. For their current Big Three, things were supposed to go differently.

The Lakers’ roster is too rigid.

Almost nothing has gone right for LeBron James and the Lakers. Worse, there's little the team can do at the trade deadline to spark a turnaround.

Almost nothing has gone right for LeBron James and the Lakers. Worse, there's little the team can do at the trade deadline to spark a turnaround. For LeBron James and the Lakers, almost nothing has gone well. Worse, there isn’t much the club can do before the trade deadline to help them turn things around. | Getty Images/Michelle Farsi

For over two months, LeBron James carried the Lakers on his back. In December and January, he averaged 30.5 points, 8.8 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 1.6 steals, and 1.3 blocks in 36.5 minutes per game. Those are great stats at any age, but they’re especially outstanding at 37.

Despite the four-time MVP’s exploits, the Lakers were just 12–13 at that period. Coach Frank Vogel was on the verge of being fired after the team’s lackluster performance in a 37-point defeat against Denver. Not that he’s to blame for most of this, but changing one coach is a lot easier than replacing ten or twelve players.

The team’s cap sheet is top-heavy, limiting what it can do at the trade deadline. 75 percent of the cap is made up of James, Westbrook, and Anthony Davis. Only two mid-level contracts have been signed. Talen Horton-Tucker, a young guard, gets paid $9.5 million, while injured guard Kendrick Nunn is paid $5 million.

They have a minimum of ten contracts after that.

The challenge of flexibility goes beyond possible deals. The average age of the NBA’s oldest squad is 30.7 years. As a result, it’s no wonder that the squad is sluggish and has defensive issues. Injuries have hampered the team’s attempts to establish consistency.

In the defeat to the Clippers, Carmelo Anthony tore his hamstring and joined James on the bench. Earlier in the season, James, Davis, and Trevor Ariza all missed substantial time. It’s not only the senior citizens; Horton-Tucker, 21, missed the first 16 games after thumb surgery. Nunn, who is 26 years old, has yet to play a minute due to an injured knee.

What are the Lakers’ options?

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For the Lakers, there are two absolutes. They aren’t going to trade LeBron James, and they aren’t going to trade Davis either. Westbrook is still the subject of rumors, but the choices aren’t appealing. The best they can hope for is to sign Houston Rockets forward John Wall. At Houston’s request, he hasn’t played this season.

Westbrook is tenacious, a quality that Wall lacks. Otherwise, it’s a toss-up in terms of skill sets. Without committing to another max contract-type player, LA’s alternatives are almost none. The Oklahoma City Thunder may theoretically reclaim Westbrook. The Lakers, on the other hand, lack the required draft assets to make general manager Sam Presti’s time and cap space worthwhile.

Instead, before March 1, LA will have to scour the cheap bin. To be eligible for the playoffs, players who have been released must be signed by that date. The Brooklyn Nets’ Paul Millsap and the Toronto Raptors’ Goran Dragi are also candidates for that market. Because the Lakers already have a full roster, signing a free agent from the buyout market necessitates releasing someone else.

DeAndre Jordan and Kent Bazemore are also candidates. Neither veteran has had a particularly strong showing in Los Angeles.

But there’s another elephant in the room that’s more important than roster changes.

What if LeBron James’ knee troubles are more serious than previously thought?

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Knee injuries in the NBA are never treated lightly. After all, this is a league built on the principles of sprinting and leaping on hardwood courts. A 37-year-old with almost 62,000 miles on his odometer is a different story.

That is how LeBron James is described. Between the regular season and playoffs, the King has played 1,612 games and 62,409 minutes.

International play, preseason games, All-Star Games, and offseason work are not included in this statistic.

A recent video of a mass on the back of James’ knee sparked a lot of debate. The 18-time All-latest Star’s absence was due to knee swelling, so the anxiety is legitimate.

For the Lakers, a lengthy spell without James is a major issue. When he plays, they are 19–17; when he doesn’t, they are 6–11. Los Angeles is currently ranked ninth in the Western Conference with a record of 25–28. That puts them four games shy of the last automatic playoff berth and five games clear of the New Orleans Pelicans in 11th place.

In the end, the Lakers’ resurgence will be based on what they currently have. Los Angeles is attempting to break the.500 barrier and is prepared to issue a $43.7 million luxury tax check. A second NBA championship in three seasons, with or without LeBron James, seems to be the longest of longshots.

Basketball Reference provided the statistics. Spotrac provided contract details.

Carmelo Anthony’s untimely injury forces the Lakers to rethink their approach before the trade deadline.

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