Warriors made bid for LeBron James at trade deadline, ESPN sources say

ByAdrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne ESPN logo
Wednesday, February 14, 2024
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SAN FRANCISCO -- Over a clandestine 24-hour window prior to the trade deadline on Thursday that included owner-to-owner conversations, the Golden State Warriors made an unsuccessful bid to convince the Los Angeles Lakers and LeBron James to consider a trade to pair him with longtime rival Stephen Curry, sources told ESPN.

The Warriors were eager to present a deal package to LA, but neither the Lakers nor James were ultimately willing to explore a potential blockbuster. Even at 39 years old, James is still playing at an All-NBA level that stirred the Warriors imagination about his ability to extend the window of the franchise's fading dynasty.

Armed with the encouragement of Warriors star Draymond Green, Golden State owner Joe Lacob reached out to Lakers owner Jeanie Buss to inquire whether James' apparent public frustration could be interpreted as an opening to discuss a trade, sources said.

Buss told Lacob the Lakers had no desire to trade James, but that he would need to seek the answer on James' state of mind from his agent, Klutch Sports CEO Rich Paul, sources said. As an owner, Buss has operated with the mindset that she wants her star players content with the franchise, and that instructed her thinking on referring Warriors leadership to James' representation, sources said.

If the Lakers ever wanted a temperature check on James' commitment, here was his chance to tell them. In the end, that answer for the Warriors and Lakers returned resoundingly on the eve of the trade deadline: Rich Paul told Lacob and Warriors GM Mike Dunleavy Jr., that James had no interest in a trade and wanted to remain a Laker, sources said. When Dunleavy Jr., reached out to Lakers GM Rob Pelinka in those pre-trade deadline hours, Dunleavy Jr., had been told the same: the Lakers wanted to keep James, sources said.

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James greets Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry after the Lakers defeated the Golden State Warriors in an NBA Play-In game Wednesday, May 19, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
LeBron James greets Stephen Curry after the Lakers defeated the Golden State Warriors in an NBA Play-In game Wednesday, May 19, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Earlier Wednesday, Green -- whom Paul also represents at Klutch -- had sent Paul a text message soliciting his help convincing James to join him in Golden State, sources said. Once, Green had been a lead recruiter on Kevin Durant's free agency signing with Golden State, but this was a far different, far more futile 11th hour pursuit.

Dunleavy Jr. was the second team executive call to Pelinka on a possible James trade, sources said. After seeing James' murky social media post of an hour-glass a week before the trade deadline, Philadelphia 76ers President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey called Pelinka to probe on a James trade and was immediately told that James wasn't available. In fact, Pelinka responded by asking Morey if Joel Embiid was available, sources said. And that ended that brief conversation. These sorts of bold trade calls are historically a common practice for Morey, who also called the Phoenix Suns and asked about a trade for Durant prior to the deadline, sources said. When told no on Durant, Morey then asked about the availability of Devin Booker and Bradley Beal, too. Unsurprisingly, those were no's as well, sources said.

Nevertheless, the Warriors and Lakers back-and-forth lands differently because it started on the ownership level and included Buss referring the Warriors to James' representation to check for themselves about James' commitment to the Lakers.

The Warriors could revisit a pursuit in the offseason when James holds a $51.4 million player option on his contract for 2024-2025. If James returns to the Lakers, he'll likely do so by declining that option and re-signing with LA on a new deal that would allow him an annual raise. James remains focused on returning to the Lakers in the offseason, sources told ESPN, but undoubtedly there will be many of these same suitors -- including Golden State and Philadelphia -- emerging to make cases to convince James otherwise.

The Lakers and Warriors were restrained at the trade deadline. The Lakers are hopeful they can make a more significant roster upgrade in the offseason, when they'll have three future first-round picks available to use in trades, sources said.

The Warriors did have substantiative talks on several trade scenarios, including with Chicago's Alex Caruso and Utah's Kelly Olynyk, sources said, but made only a money-saving deal to move guard Cory Joseph. Golden State is facing the potential of unrestricted free agency for four-time championship guard Klay Thompson.

For now, the Lakers and Warriors are separated in the standings for 9th and 10 in the Western Conference Play-in race. For now, they'll stay on parallel paths and leave those 11th hour conversations in the wake of trade deadline week.