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LeBron and Steph playing together? You’re missing the real story

In Sports
February 15, 2024

LeBron James and Stephen Curry, the greatest NBA players of a generation, are locked in another playoff battle. Rings are no longer on the line. It’s for home court in a win-or-go-home play-in tournament opener.

Their Los Angeles Lakers (29-26) and Golden State Warriors (26-25) are in ninth and 10th place in the Western Conference. One is going home early, if not both, if neither can climb higher in the standings. They’re doing their best, each winning five of their last six games to pad themselves against fully falling out of contention.

With that fresh in your mind, Wednesday morning welcomed a new chapter in the saga of James and Curry: The Warriors approached the Lakers about the possibility of trading for James at the deadline, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne. James and the Lakers reportedly shot down the idea.

The first thing you should do when news breaks — a week removed from the trade deadline, at a time when none of this is possible, on a weekday morning before anyone on the West Coast is even out of bed — that the two most famous basketball players on the planet might have been teammates: Ask yourself who benefits.

We benefit, of course. James and Curry, who met in four straight NBA Finals and share eight of the past 12 championships between them, could’ve played together? Feed it through a post-Super Bowl content loop.

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 27: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors and LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers joke around with one another during their game at Chase Center on January 27, 2024 in San Francisco, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

LeBron and Steph haven’t had much to laugh about this season. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

As the story goes, Warriors star Draymond Green, who shares agent Rich Paul with James, “encouraged” Golden State’s brass to broach the subject with their counterparts in Los Angeles. The Lakers referred the Warriors to Paul, who reportedly offered the same response as Jeanie Buss and Rob Pelinka: No thanks.

This paints Lakers leadership on the same page. Wouldn’t you know it, after James tweeted an hourglass emoji, agitating for help in the weeks and days before a deadline that came and went without a move, he is in lockstep with the Lakers for the stretch run of his final year under guaranteed contract. How convenient!

Pay no mind to the “six sources with direct knowledge of the situation” who, just two weeks prior to that, all but called for head coach Darvin Ham’s firing. Read nothing into the notion that, with their season floundering on Feb. 1, James and Anthony Davis both rested for a nationally televised game against the rival Boston Celtics, leaving their teammates to sink themselves, only for them to show life for the first time in forever.

Sharks were circling. The Philadelphia 76ers, the only contender with the salary cap space to sign James this summer, also inquired about his availability, per Wojnarowski and Shelburne. He is a hot commodity. Someone will pay more than $50 million for a 40-year-old, so naturally the Lakers have to pay him to lead a team chasing a playoff berth for the fourth straight season. And he wants to be there, too, right? RIGHT?!?!

Everyone saves face on the Lakers, especially James and his agent, Paul, who are made to be the most powerful brokers in this scenario, which quells concerns about James’ future — until they need to stoke them again.

In Golden State, it generates a s***storm. How might the Warriors match James’ $47.6 million salary? The easiest way was to package Klay Thompson‘s expiring deal with Jonathan Kuminga and draft picks. Alternatives include Chris Paul‘s expiring salary and/or Andrew Wiggins‘ cumbersome contract, plus picks and young players, including Brandin Podziemski and Moses Moody. There were avenues to acquiring James, and every one involved a considerable shakeup to the foundation of a team that won a title in 2022.

I don’t know about you, but if I’m on the Warriors, and I awoke to the news that Green wanted me traded — that he urged ownership to make it happen — and the Lakers had to turn them down, I would not be happy. If I remember correctly, no Warriors abandoned Green when his antics threatened to derail another season.

And if I’m Green, I certainly wouldn’t like that word of a text message I sent to my agent, “soliciting his help in convincing James to join him in Golden State,” made its way to ESPN, especially because the story frames the responses from Paul and James so clearly. As if Green needs reminding who’s client No. 1 at Klutch Sports.

The real story, though, is that this made sense. James is 39. Curry turns 36 in March, two years older than Thompson and Green. James will make a record 20th All-Star appearance this weekend, still padding the game’s greatest statistical résumé with a nightly 25-7-8 on 52/40/74 shooting splits. Curry will make his 11th All-Star appearance, still the greatest shooter alive. Yet, their teams are barely above .500, facing the prospects of two must-win games, just for the right to play a younger, hungrier favorite in the first round.

They need each other, and the media is a conduit for that conversation. The story will take on a life of its own. That possibility of the two greatest players of their generation playing together, it was either an inch from the goal line, never really in the field of play or somewhere 100 yards between. It never came to fruition, and all it is now is gamesmanship between two rivals trying to eliminate each other once more. It’s all a distraction from what’s really going on: Neither are good enough to make it on their own anymore. The end of an era.

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