With LeBron James now a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, the landscape of the entire NBA has virtually changed overnight.
The best player in the game now resides in the Western Conference. An already loaded grouping of teams became that much better in a matter of days. The Lakers suddenly appear to be (at the very least) in the conversation behind Golden State and Houston as perhaps the third-best team in the West.
We still don’t know if the Lakers will trade for Kawhi Leonard. Financial restraints might make this rather difficult to do — particularly with other recently-inked deals. There’s also this situation with Randle. He could’ve been used in a sign-and-trade. Now, that likely won’t happen:
The Lakers have renounced Julius Randle, making him an unrestricted free agent, league source tells ESPN.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 2, 2018
UPDATE: Randle reportedly has signed a 2-year/$18 million deal with the New Orleans Pelicans.
Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated recently penned a piece detailing James’ free agency process. This excerpt was quite fascinating — and lends itself to the notion as to why the Lakers may be patient in terms of acquiring Leonard:
“James explained that he was in no rush, even at 33, and did not have a problem being the first headliner through the door. He wants to build a contender that lasts and believes the Lakers possess the recruiters, the assets and the salary cap space to do it.”
The four-year agreement essentially binds James and the Lakers together for the long haul. Though many players in James’ position would be pushing for the ‘championship or bust’ mindset, it appears as if the 14-time All-Star is content with Los Angeles being methodical with its personnel decisions.
In other words, the Lakers likely will hold onto all of its young assets (Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, requisite draft picks) rather than deal them for Leonard. With the elite wing becoming a free agent in a year’s time, the Lakers could wait until then to pursue him as opposed to gutting their entire roster for Leonard in the present time.
Since James committed, the Lakers also came to agreements with SG Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, G/F Lance Stephenson, G Rajon Rondo, and C JaVale McGee. It’s an interesting cast of characters — though there may be some method to the madness.
Caldwell-Pope was just okay (13.4 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 38.3-percent from three, 47.3-percent from field) in his first year with the franchise. To the surprise of many, he re-signed on another one-year deal. Caldwell-Pope is an above-average athlete. It allows for him to defend either guard spot with decent effectiveness. KCP is prone to poor shot selection, and he doesn’t play with terrific basketball I.Q. In essence, he’s a younger/better version of J.R. Smith. He’s also a client of Rich Paul/Klutch Sports — which happens to also represent LeBron.
Stephenson is an interesting one. He can’t really shoot from the perimeter. Duly, the New York native struggles at times with turning the ball over. His on-court antics have a way of also making him a target for both opposing players and referees. With that said, Stephenson has the perfect level of ‘dog’ in him. He’ll hound opposing players on the defensive end of the court. We’ve seen Stephenson irritate James on multiple occasions during regular season and postseason play. Now, he’ll get a chance to be his teammate — and thus have the opportunity to be the first guard off the bench.
McGee had a very good Finals for Golden State. As Shaqtin’ a Fool has illuminated time and time again, it isn’t a great idea to give McGee anything other than spot minutes. Still, he’s a rim runner with above-the-rim capabilities.
The Rondo signing has many asking questions. It appears as if the Lakers are in a total win-now mode. Rondo’s ability to pass the basketball is well documented — as is his mental acuity. Still, you’re bringing on another player with potential attitude issues. Duly, Rondo isn’t a major threat to spread the floor (especially with Ball already on the roster).
It also begs the question as to whether Ball will be traded. By renouncing Randle’s rights and (potentially) stretching Luol Deng’s contract, enough money could be made available for a trade (Leonard?) or the signing of another max-level player (such as DeMarcus Cousins).
As currently constituted, here’s a potential lineup:
PG: Lonzo Ball
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
SF: Brandon Ingram
PF: LeBron James
C: JaVale McGee
Bench: Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, Josh Hart, Kyle Kuzma, Ivica Zubac, Moritz Wagner, Svi Mykhailiuk, Malik Newman, Luol Deng
This roster doesn’t appear to be fully complete. There’s a large need for shooting and spacing in general. Mykhailiuk could be that guy — but it’s asking an awful lot for a first-year second-round pick to be the spot-up corner shooter LeBron needs. The likes of Seth Curry and Wayne Ellington may be players worth checking into. There’s also the glaring need for a veteran big man on the bench. With vets normally lining up to play with LeBron, this shouldn’t be hard to come by. Channing Frye looks like someone that may be fitting the bill — particularly since he’s one of Luke Walton’s best friends.
For right now, we’re going to exclude Leonard from hypothetical conjecture. Instead, we’re going to focus our efforts solely on Boogie.
The Achilles injury still hangs over Cousins like a charcoal gray cloud of uncertainty. There’s no telling how he’ll come back from the injury. It’s a gamble worth making if Cousins is indeed willing to sign a 1-year deal. From here, the Lakers would have enough to give him a multi-year max deal next summer should he prove to be fully healthy.
Cousins would solve the glaring hole at center. An incredibly dynamic player, he’d be ridiculous with James in pick-and-roll situations. His ability to shoot the ball from beyond the arc would open up driving lanes for James and Ingram. Additionally, the Lakers would be able to have a player capable of getting a bucket whenever required.
Now, we really don’t know as to how this will all play out. There’s still plenty of time remaining in this period. As of now however, the Lakers have put together a very fascinating collection of talent. It’s one with a chunk of young players, experienced veterans, odd personalities, and a team featuring the best basketball player on the planet.
In order words, this is just another day in the wacky city of Los Angeles.
Image Sources: Clutch Points,
Source for Jenkins’ quote: Sports Illustrated