As is the case with virtually every situation in life, things don’t always pan out the way you had hoped.
In terms of the Los Angeles Lakers, a complete recalibration process is on the cusp of occurring.
According to ESPN, it appears as if the Lakers will not be major players this summer in what appears to be a loaded 2018 free agent class. Instead, the franchise reportedly will set its sights on the group in 2019.
Paul George has quickly built a strong rapport with Russell Westbrook. After it looked inevitable that George would leave OKC in the offseason, it appears as if he could re-up for a lengthy extension. LeBron James is the biggest fish out on the market. However, would he really join the youngest team in the NBA without another proven star? This scenario appears highly unlikely — regardless of how many houses and business ventures he’s got in Los Angeles.
DeMarcus ‘Boogie’ Cousins was thought to be another option…until he tore his Achilles a few weeks ago. As currently constituted, it probably wouldn’t make sense to throw max money at an aging DeAndre Jordan, or a restricted free agent such as Aaron Gordon. Alas, this will force the front office — namely Magic Johnson — to exercise some patience.
The overarching question persists: Can Johnson wade through this rebuild with patience?
It’s surely something worth asking. Since taking over with Rob Pelinka, the two have been steadfast in publicly voicing their intention on making the franchise yet again a Championship contender. It’s also been no secret that the Lakers have privately — and publicly — put all of their eggs in the proverbial 2018 free agency class basket. While landing James seems like a tremendous idea, it isn’t exactly the most realistic scenario.
George would be a big fish worth pursuing. He’s a native of Southern California, and was said to idolize Kobe Bryant. George would instantly walk into a young, exciting team as the No. 1 option. However, would that group be better than the one currently assembled in Oklahoma City? Wouldn’t George want to play with a former MVP in his prime when compared to a collection of players under the age of 25?
It would make absolutely zero sense to throw a ton of money at second-tier free agents. The Lakers have ample cap space, and ideally would want to use it on franchise-type talents. Los Angeles could operate similarly to how it did with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope this last year. In order to preserve money for ’19, it could offer incentive-laden 1-year deals (to someone like Avery Bradley).
In 2019, the likes of Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson, and Kawhi Leonard will all be available. Thompson and Leonard both have huge ties to the Los Angeles area. Leonard grew up less than an hour away from Staples Center. Thompson’s father — former NBA player Mychal — is currently a broadcaster for the Lakers. The Lakers would be able to offer Thompson a much larger role than the one he’s currently assuming with Golden State. Duly, the potential pairing of Thompson with Lonzo Ball seems like a perfect fit.
Lastly, there’s also the scope of this current team as currently constituted. Los Angeles has won 10 of its last 14 games. When on the floor, Ball has proven to be a very dynamic player. Brandon Ingram has improved in all aspects of his game. Josh Hart looks like (at the very worst) a solid contributor off the bench, and Kyle Kuzma was the unquestioned steal of the draft.
The core is built up of long, versatile athletes. Under Luke Walton, the team has defended much better than anyone could’ve imagined prior to the start of the season. While the playoffs may be out of reach for this year, the implementation of the cemented foundation going forward has already seen positive dividends. This team is playing with tons of confidence, and aren’t too far away from breaking into the playoff mix.
Any small market team would gladly accept where the Lakers find themselves. The roster has four young and promising assets. Additionally, LA is poised to have as much cap space going forward as anyone in the league.
With that said, it’s not a small market club. Johnson is used to winning at the highest level. The word ‘rebuild’ traditionally isn’t in the Lakers’ vocabulary. Even with LeBron and George in tow, will that make LA a true threat to usurp Golden State as the best team in the league? Probably not. Conventional wisdom states that the Lakers should continue to keep this core intact whilst allowing for development across the board.
It will be fascinating to see what the Lakers do this offseason. Panicking by offering max money to a player with deficiencies (Jordan) or a serious injury (Cousins) could be extremely detrimental to the future of the franchise — even if these said players have big-name recognition.
Though Laker Nation won’t want to hear this, operating ‘similarly’ to a small market team could be the best choice of action over the next year — particularly since Golden State and Houston won’t be dropping off anytime soon.
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