There is an inpatient segment of Laker fandom — and just about every other fan base — that wants then to go after Jimmy Butler, Paul George, Russell Westbrook (if he becomes a free agent) and any other star they can. Do whatever it takes to become a contender again as fast as they can, it’s what they see as the Lakers’ rightful place in the universe.
The problem is the Golden State Warriors.
They have dominated these Finals, have been to the Finals three straight years, every one of their core players is younger than 30, and after they re-sign Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant this summer their core four are locked in for at least two more seasons (Klay Thompson is the next free agent, in 2019). They are the Mount Everest nobody may be able to scale for a few years.
That has up-and-coming teams in the West thinking three, four, or five years out with their rebuilds. It’s something teams don’t generally talk about publically but admit privately. Which is why it was nice to hear Lakers’ coach Luke Walton say on Bleacher Report’s “The Full 48” podcast he recommends a patient rebuild right now (hat tip Eye on Basketball).
“I joke a lot. I said ‘if there’s a time to be rebuilding, this is the time to do it.’ The Warriors don’t look like they’re going anywhere for a while. They’re pretty darn good right now,” said Walton….
“Obviously there’s players in this league that if you can get, it’s really tough to say no to because the superstars in this league are good enough to make you a contender or not. It’s the difference between having a very good team with lots of role players or having a team that can actually, legitimately win an NBA championship…
“My only caution would be let’s not give up too much of our young core for one superstar because, like we just talked about before, let’s not forget that those Golden State Warriors are just a little bit north of us and it’s going to take a lot more than one superstar to dethrone them from the West. There’s that fine line in trying to get there quicker rather than developing our own guys. I think Rob (Pelinka) and Magic (Johnson) are very aware of that. They’re constantly looking at the best way to get us to be a true contender, not just on paper.”
To use an “it’s never going to happen” example, trade D'Angelo Russell and one of the Lakers’ oversized contracts (say Timofey Mozgov), draft Lonzo Ball, and where are the Lakers? They jump from 26 wins to maybe 36 (depending upon the improvement of Brandon Ingram and others), and they miss out on the playoffs by a few games (and George has shifted to essentially Pacers West). The Lakers are better drafting Ball (or whoever), developing their young players, then in the summer of 2018 — or better yet, maybe 2019 — target big free agents. Build a core and a system that works, then add to it, as Boston did (they won 41 games before adding Al Horford). Think a few years out.
Maybe by then, the Warriors will not look like quite as daunting a force.