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LeBron James signed with the Lakers on the second day of free agency this summer, inking a four-year contract that will keep him in Los Angeles for the foreseeable future.
But did he ever think about taking his talents to Denver? Or did the Nuggets ever try to recruit the three-time NBA champion and four-time Most Valuable Player?
“The owner of the team is a very dear friend of mine. So he discussed it a couple of times to me,” James said following Lakers shootaround Tuesday morning. “He also sent me those throwback jerseys; I think they’re wearing them tonight. The white ones with the mountains I believe. He said, ‘You’ll look good in one of these.’ But we’ve been on vacation and things of that nature. We have a great friendship. But I didn’t give it much thought.”
Denver would have had to perform some real-time salary cap gymnastics in order to fit James’ $35 million-plus salary smoothly into their books this season and beyond. After already agreeing to a max contract with Nikola Jokic and a new deal with Will Barton within the first couple of hours of free agency, the Nuggets at the time didn’t have the cap room to simply sign James outright, as the Lakers did. Still, if James made it known that he wanted to sign with the Nuggets or any other team in the league for that matter, any front office would quickly put their team in the right situation to make that move.
James’ Lakers are 11-8 and winners of seven of their last 10 after losing three-straight to begin the season. Los Angeles boasts the 12th-best offense in the league and the 10th-ranked defense. The Nuggets come into Tuesday’s matchup as one of just three teams (Milwaukee, Toronto) with a top-10 offense and defense.
“The biggest challenge is you can’t just key on one guy. You need to know Jamal Murray, (Nikola) Jokic, they command a lot of attention,” said James. “That allows sometimes for you to forget about Gary Harris and not pay attention to Paul Millsap. Then Juancho (Hernangomez) gets going from the outside, and then they come in with their bench who’s played very solid this year as well.”
There’s familiarity between the Nuggets and Lakers. The two teams faced off twice this preseason and back on Oct. 25 in Los Angeles where the Lakers eeked out a 121-114 win over the Nuggets and handed Denver its first loss of the season. Jamal Murray, who has a history with the Lakers, coach Luke Walton and Lonzo Ball dating back to last season, scored 22 points.
“I know he’s going to get up for this game. No question,” said Monte Morris of Denver’s starting point guard. “He likes big moments. He’s a big-time player. He went to Kentucky, so he’s used to games like this.”
“I’m looking forward to a big night from Jamal Murray,” he added.
That familiarity stems to the sidelines, too. Michael Malone was an assistant with the Cavs for five seasons from 2005-10 where he coached James in his first tour in Cleveland.
“I think he’s a great coach,” James said. “Always been one of my favorites and happy that he’s having some success that’s for sure.”
James may be happy for Malone, who the Nuggets awarded with a contract extension before the first game of the regular season, and excited to see his team race out to a 13-7 start. But he’s all business tonight as Los Angeles looks to end Denver’s three-game winning streak.