Lakers Trade And Free Agency Rumors: LeBron James To L.A. In 2014 If Dwight Howard Leaves For Hawks Or Rockets?

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June 12, 2013 5:19 AM EST

LeBron James is looking to win his second straight championship as the Miami Heat battle the San Antonio Spurs in the 2013 NBA Finals. However, that hasn’t stopped speculation of where the MVP might play in 2014.

In 2010, James made headlines with “The Decision” and his announcement that he’d be joining Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami. The signing has worked out for James, who’s become a perennial winner, reaching the Finals in all three seasons with the Heat.

Despite his success, or maybe because of it, there have been rumors that James could go to another team in the 2014-2015 season. Next summer, James will be able to opt out of his contract, which he’s almost certain to do, since he can make more money. Publicly, James hasn’t ruled out the possibility of returning to Cleveland and trying, once again, to bring a championship to his hometown team. The Los Angeles Lakers might also have a shot of landing the game’s top star.

This offseason, the Lakers have a lot of decisions to make. They will be looking to sign Dwight Howard to a maximum-salary contract and could look to trade Pau Gasol. The organization still has its amnesty clause, which they could use to rid themselves of either Gasol’s or Metta World Peace’s contract. L.A. is also dealing with Kobe Bryant, who’s owed over $30 million next year, but could miss significant time with a torn Achilles.

Next offseason, though, the Lakers will have a lot of flexibility. Only Steve Nash is under contract with the Lakers beyond 2014, leaving room for Los Angeles to bring in at least on big free agent. There is no telling whether or not James would consider playing for L.A., but having cap space would put them in the running with just a few teams to sign the future Hall of Famer.

Even if the Lakers can’t sign James, they should be in play to sign another star player. Wade, Bosh and Carmelo Anthony will be eligible to become free agents next summer. Danny Granger and Luol Deng only have one year left on their current deals. Being under the salary cap would not only allow L.A. to offer a max contract to a free agent, but it would enable them to make sign-and-trades.

The futures of Howard and Bryant will play a large role in determining what the Lakers can do next season. If Los Angeles re-signs the center, they’ll owe him close to $24 million per season. However, Howard is reportedly very interested in the Houston Rockets. The online betting Web site Sportsbook gives Houston a better chance of signing Howard (-140) than Los Angeles does (+150). Howard could also sign with the Hawks, who might be able to entice the All-Star with their ability to sign two max free agents, possibly Howard and Chris Paul.

There is no guarantee that Bryant will return to the Lakers after next season. He wouldn’t likely sign with another team, but the shooting guard has indicated that he might retire when his current contract is up. Losing Bryant’s contract could lower the Lakers payroll by a significant percentage, and would give them a need for an elite scorer.

It’s hard to predict what James will do in 2014. If he wins three straight titles will he go elsewhere for a new challenge? Will he look to win seven or eight championships with the Heat like he’s previously stated? The answers to those questions won’t be known for another year.

If James is ready to make a move, though, the Lakers will be ready. In October, L.A. vice president Jim Bus told Kevin Ding of The Orange County Register that the team is prepared for the summer of 2014.

“We purposely ended all contracts that year," Buss said. "I can't talk about Kobe (Bryant), but this is what he signed till. So basically we put everything to that, and we want to make a big splash in the free-agent market if we get to that spot. So we designed the contracts and the players and our future all around that."

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