Some NBA execs see the Lakers chasing LeBron James in 2014. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Shaquille O'Neal. Kobe Bryant. Dwight Howard. The Lakers always seem to find a way to add a superstar no matter their salary cap situation or talented roster. ESPN's Brian Windhorst reports several NBA team execs think the Lakers are positioning themselves to lure LeBron James to Los Angeles in 2014.
James' current Miami Heat contract includes an opt out that could free him up in 2014.
James is signed through 2016, but he can end his contract in either 2014 or 2015 if he wishes to. He has recently said that he's not thought about his contract decision in 2014, even though he recently switched agents. But observers around the league expect James to opt out of his contract in 2014, no matter what happens with the Heat over the next two seasons. That doesn't mean he won't stay in Miami, but it does mean he might be in play again.
The timing could coincide with Bryant's farewell tour. Bryant, 34, has suggested that he will play this season (2012-13) and next (2013-14) then retire. Bryant's salary -- $30 million in his final season -- will be just one of many big-dollar contracts dropping off the Lakers' payroll in time to accommodate James' next big deal.
In July 2014, Bryant's $30.4 million, Pau Gasol's $19.2 million, Metta World Peace's $7.7 million, Steve Blake's $4 million and Jordan Hill's $3.5 million will come off the books. There likely won't even be any first-round draft picks filling up the cap, either, as the Lakers have already traded their 2013 first-round pick to Phoenix in the Steve Nash deal.
Opposing teams that are making their own long-range free agency plans think they see the Lakers' plan coming into focus. As it stands, L.A. will have enough cap space to add a superstar like James.