Could the Lakers’ season have ended differently with another veteran on their roster?
Los Angeles was “one of several teams to inquire” about four-time NBA All-Star Jimmy Butler before he was traded to the 76ers, according to an ESPN report.
The team was looking at “the possibility to upgrade the roster via a trade” even before adding LeBron James, the report noted, citing a source familiar with the team’s meeting with James.
“A source familiar with the three-hour meeting James had at his home with (Magic) Johnson on the eve of his free-agency decision told ESPN that (Anthony) Davis’ name never came up when the two discussed future plans. But when the Lakers signed (Rajon) Rondo, (Lance) Stephenson, (Michael) Beasley, et al. to one-year contracts after (Paul) George stuck with the Thunder, the message was clear: L.A. was hell-bent on pairing LeBron with a max-level free agent in the summer of 2019 — with the possibility to upgrade the roster via a trade even before that.”
Another source said once James joined the organization, they didn’t feel like he was fully engaged with his younger teammates before the trade deadline — which caused a number of rumors to swirl surrounding the young talent and the team’s up-and-down season.
“It’s a part of business, it’s a part of being a professional athlete,” Johnson said days after the deadline, via NBA.com. “I’m going to hug ’em and tell them that we got to come together and our goal is still in reach, which is to make the playoffs.
“I love our team. I love the guys. It’s a tough part of our business whether you’re mentioned in trade talk, or you get traded. It’s a tough part of professional sports. … My job is to make sure we stay together as a team and stay focused on the goal, which is to make the playoffs.”
Los Angeles never reached a deal with the Timberwolves, who sent Butler to Philadelphia for a package centered around Jerryd Bayless. Robert Covington, Dario Saric and a 2022 second-round pick were also part of the deal.
The Lakers have struggled in their first season with James on the roster. After battling injury, James couldn’t lift the young LA team and will miss his first postseason since 2005 after officially being eliminated from the playoffs on March 22.
Meanwhile, Butler is averaging 18.7 points and 5.2 rebounds with the Sixers.
He is shooting 46.6 percent from the field and 34 percent from 3-point range to help Philadelphia to a 34-18 record with Butler on the floor. The 76ers (48-27) are third in the Eastern Conference with just seven games left on the regular season schedule.