LeBron James is no stranger to orchestrating superstar trios.
After teaming up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami, he joined forces with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love in Cleveland. He’s now in L.A. with Anthony Davis and, well, TBD.
With the Los Angeles Lakers already having agreed to trade for Davis, James should be on the recruiting trail to lure one of the top free agents and complete his newest Big Three.
One major factor to consider: the Lakers could be down to only $23.7 million in cap space if Davis refuses to waive his trade kicker and the trade becomes finalized July 6, according to Tania Ganguliof the Los Angeles Times.
The Lakers are doing all they can to create a max cap slot, offering Mo Wagner, Jemerrio Jones and Isaac Bonga to teams in an attempt to reach $32 million in space, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Kemba Walker would be a great offensive option. Jimmy Butler would bring scoring, defense and intensity. Even bringing D’Angelo Russell back to L.A. makes sense now.
Out of all the stars available, James should first reach out to Irving.
A triumvirate of James, Irving and Davis would not only be the NBA’s best, but it would be the greatest collection of superstars James has ever played with.
The thought of Irving willingly signing on to play with James again seemed impossible two years ago.
After the Golden State Warriors defeated the Cavaliers in the 2017 NBA Finals, James and Irving embraced in the Oracle Arena tunnel. With confetti falling behind them, James told Irving, “We’ll be back”.
That never happened.
Weeks later, Irving asked the Cavs to trade him, citing his desire to be the focal point of an offense and no longer wanting to play with James.
“I don’t think anybody in the organization sensed this coming,” James said of Irving’s trade request at the Cavs’ media day that September. “It was definitely a shock.”
This was the first time any teammate in James’ then-14-year-career had openly asked to leave him, which left him questioning what he did wrong.
“I had a ton of emotions,” James said. “I was wondering if there was something I could have did better to make him not want to be traded. …
“I tried to do whatever I could do to help the kid out, be the best player he could be-try to help him be a better leader, a better scorer, a better floor general, a better defender, a better passer, getting guys involved, a better leader vocally. I tried to give him everything and give him as much as the DNA as I could. Because like I told you guys throughout the season, at some point, when he was ready to take over the keys, I was ready to give them to him.”
Irving was 22 and James 29 when they first teamed up in Cleveland. Now that they’re 27 and 34, respectively, it may finally be time for James to pass the keys.
The window to reconciliation is open after Irving called James in January to apologize.
“Yeah, we’re in a good place right now,” James toldThe Athletic’s. “Me and Kyrie are in a good place right now. I love the man that he’s becoming, I love the challenges he’s accepted and I always wish the best for him.”
Irving will have to factor in money, role and his relationship with James when making this decision.
James’ Greatest Trio Yet
In his eight seasons with two co-stars, James has gone to the Finals all eight times, winning three championships.
While James, Davis and Irving are as good of a foundation as a team can get, the Lakers would still need to surround them with quality role players to become as successful as the Miami and Cleveland teams of years past.
From a strictly superstar perspective, though, this would be James’ greatest collection yet.
On past James-led superteams, the big man typically sacrificed the most, be it Chris Bosh or Kevin Love. Since James and Wade/Irving are used to having the ball in their hands, the post player relied upon their distribution.
Davis is different. The 26-year-old big man averaged 29.3 points, 13.3 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 2.6 blocks and 1.7 steals before his mid-January finger injury. Unlike Bosh and Love, Davis grew up as a guard and can bring the ball up the floor as needed. He’s become a skilled passer, and he can create offense from inside or outside the arc.
He’s also a far superior defensive option than Bosh or Love. A three-time member of the NBA’s All-Defensive team, Davis has led the NBA in blocked shots three times and is the league’s active leader in rejections per game (2.4).
While Bosh and Love each carried their previous teams’ offenses like Davis, the pair combined for zero All-Defense teams. On a team with Irving and a mid-30’s James, that matters more than ever.
And the version of Irving that James would be getting now is vastly superior to the one he originally joined forces with five years ago.
That Irving was only three years into his NBA career, rarely defended and had built up a mountain of bad habits from playing on lottery-bound teams. James was forced to break those habits early and work to establish his chemistry with Irving. That relationship eventually yielded a championship, and Irving put up a still-career-high 25.2 points per game in his final season alongside James.
This Irving is a far better defender and distributor-he set a career high with 6.9 assists last season-and he now understands what it takes to carry a team. If James came at him with criticism this time around, Irving should be much more receptive.
This version of Irving could also be a better fit next to James than Wade was in Miami. While Wade averaged 22.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.7 assists in their four years together, he shot only 28.9 percent from three and missed 64 games with various injuries.
Irving is more than a year younger than Wade was in 2010, and he shot 38.7 percent from deep while playing with James in Cleveland. He’s also coming off back-to-back 40-plus percent shooting marks from three in Boston.
James and Irving are still the only teammates in NBA Finals history to each score 40 or more in the same game. We don’t know how Walker, Butler, Russell or other free agents would perform in the Finals because they’ve never made it that far.
We know what Irving and James can accomplish together. Add in arguably the NBA’s best big man in Davis, and this would be the best Big Three of James’ career.
Greg Swartz covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him onTwitter.All stats viaBasketball Reference orNBA.comunless otherwise noted.