Lakers Planning to Go After LeBron James in 2014?

With Kobe Bryant thinking of walking away in a couple of years, it’s never too early to start planning for his replacement in Hollywood. According to ESPN, the Lakers will go hard after LeBron James should he test free agency in the summer of 2014 — which, let’s be honest, is the same plan for every other team in the NBA: “Several teams’ executives have said they believe the Lakers are positioning themselves to make a run at LeBron James in 2014, when the Miami Heat star can choose to become a free agent. […] In the wake of the Howard trade, much as been made of the massive luxury-tax bill the Lakers are facing next season if they’re able to re-sign the big man. Salary cap expert Larry Coon has estimated the Lakers could be on the hook for as much as $85 million just in taxes in 2013-14. But look a little further, to that 2014-15 season, and you’ll see something else: The Lakers’ projected payroll is almost completely clear. Only Nash is signed for that season, at $9.7 million, though the Lakers will also be paying about $20 million to Howard if they can re-sign him this coming summer. 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 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. ‘It’s not a mistake that all those deals end the same year Kobe’s does. They have probably been planning for their next phase for a while,’ said one general manager. ‘The Busses and [Lakers GM] Mitch [Kupchak] are always thinking about the next big deal.’ […] At the moment, the Heat are loaded and poised to be title contenders for the next two seasons. 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.”