Breaking Down How L.A. Lakers Can Replace Kobe Bryant with LeBron James in 2014

Dan FavaleFeatured ColumnistOctober 18, 2012

Another day, another LeBron James to the Los Angeles Lakers rumor.

Wait, what?

At a time when the Lakers, who are fresh out of an offseason that saw them piece together one of the most prolific rosters in the history of the NBA, could be basking in the glory of regaining contender status, they're instead playing chess—thinking two moves, or two years, ahead.

According to Brian Windhorst of, Los Angeles is not just preparing itself for the season in front of it, but the one two years from now, in which it intends to make a play for the newly crowned NBA champion himself:

With their latest coups -- the stunning Steve Nash sign-and-trade and a victory in the Dwight Howard sweepstakes -- just now coming together for the first time, could the Lakers already be plotting out the next one?

Opposing executives think so. As teams continue their long-range planning and work up opposition strategies, the Lakers remain just as much a threat in the transaction game as they are on the court.

Several teams' executives have told 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.

Impossible, right? 

Well, for those whose eyes haven't already started bleeding from envy or frustration, I'm here to tell you that it's not.

Should James opt out of his contract in 2014 and decide to once again become an unrestricted free agent, Los Angeles isn't just a viable destination, but the Lakers possess the means necessary to render them favorites in his pursuit.

Currently, the Lakers have just under $10 million on the books heading into 2014-15, all of which is committed to Steve Nash. Right there, this means the Lakers have—or more specifically Mitch Kupchak has—nearly $50 million to play around with.

But wait. Los Angeles acquired Dwight Howard for a reason, did it not? Yes, and it was not to see him don purple and gold only to waltz out the door in less than a year's time.

Therefore, we must assume that, unless Howard desires to perpetuate the stigma that is associated with his poor decision-making, the Lakers will be spending an ample amount of cash—somewhere in the five-year, $108 million range—to retain his services this summer.

Which means the Lakers will then have around $30 million devoted to just Howard and Nash in 2014. And no one else.

Still following? Good.

With around $30 million in salary cap accounted for, that will leave Los Angeles somewhere between $25 and $30 million annually to burn through.

Now, going on yet another assumption that the maximum salary for an NBA player who has 10 or more years of service under his belt will hold at or remain close to the current figure of $19.2 million annually, that leaves the Lakers with more than enough money to sign James and still have up to $10 million—or more—to fill out the roster.

As for that extra $10 million, perhaps Kobe Bryant—an unrestricted free agent in 2014—would consider foregoing retirement and accepting a pay cut to play alongside the active player he is most compared to. Maybe Pau Gasol—also an unrestricted free agent—hops on the Antawn Jamison train and takes a 90 percent slash in pay to chase more rings.

The possibilities are endless. That's not bad for a team that has more than $100 million of payroll committed in 2012-13 and over $78 million in 2013-14, is it?

Yet before you order your custom-made LeBron James Lakers jersey, is it even plausible to believe that the Chosen One would leave the comfort of South Beach for the even brighter lights and heavier scrutiny of Los Angeles?

If he wants to render LeBron: King of the Rings a work of non-fiction, it certainly is.

We're nearly two years away from James being eligible for free agency once again, and a lot can happen in two years.

The Heat could win one more title; they would win two. Or they could enter the summer of 2014 with no additional hardware on their fingers.

By that point, James will be pushing 30, Dwyane Wade 32, Chris Bosh 30 and the rest of the Heat's roster will consist of just Mike Miller—should he survive that long—Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony. So the team itself, provided an unforeseen offseason or midseason coup doesn't occur, will be starting from almost scratch.

At the prospect of turning 30, is LeBron likely to embrace the concept of the Heat having to rebuild around the Big Three? Will he really have faith in Wade's knees holding up much longer? Will he still trust in Bosh and Miami's small-ball philosophy?

Maybe, but maybe not.

There's no guarantee he stays in Miami, especially if that 2013-14 campaign doesn't culminate in his second or third championship.

Thus, color the Heat a sitting duck, not unlike the Cavaliers back in 2010. In 2014, they could be the ones watching from home as James nationally televises his decision to join the ready and able Lakers.

Do the stars—literally, the stars—have to align for LeBron to bring his talents to Los Angeles? Yes, they do, but it's possible. More possible than anyone ever could have imagined.

Come 2014, James will once again be an athlete potentially plotting his escape to a different market, a more formidable team and a better chance at contending for a title.

He will once again be a flight risk—a flight risk who could feasibly charter his course due west, where the Lakers will be waiting for him.