The Lakers have been building to chase two stars this summer. The biggest names tied to that plan:
- LeBron James – now looks like a longshot, though turmoil with the Cavaliers leaves the door open.
- Russell Westbrook – signed a contract extension with the Thunder.
- Paul George – sounds like he’s leaning toward staying with Oklahoma City
- DeMarcus Cousins – tore his Achilles
So, where does that leave the Lakers?
As the Los Angeles Lakers become more realistic about the franchise’s chances of snaring superstars in the free agent class of 2018, the front office is increasingly looking through a longer lens in its team building process, league sources told ESPN.
The Lakers aren’t abandoning a summer pursuit of stars, but rather recalibrating on the possibility of a 2019 class that could include San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard, Golden State’s Klay Thompson and Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler, league sources told ESPN.
This is just the Lakers posturing and spinning as they lose battles. They haven’t given up on the war, but it’s clear the fight is tougher than they anticipated.
Of course, the Lakers still want to add a star or two this summer. No team would wait an additional year if not necessary. A key step in that process is shedding Luol Deng‘s and maybe Jordan Clarkson‘s contracts. Letting Julius Randle walk – or preemptively trading him now – is also imperative. How do the Lakers maximize their return for Randle and Clarkson and minimize the cost of dumping Deng? Convincing teams they’re not desperate to make a splash this summer and are willing to wait until 2019.
On one hand, waiting would work. The Lakers can keep building with Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Larry Nance Jr. and Josh Hart. Of that group, only Nance’s cheap rookie-scale contract will expire by 2019 – and his cap hold ($6,817,172) will be low that summer. Each season the Lakers pay Deng and Clarkson, the easier it becomes to trade them.
On the other hand, waiting until 2019 will make it tricky to handle Randle, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Brook Lopez in free agency this summer. The Lakers shouldn’t commit to multi-year deals if they’re prioritizing 2019, but they also need to win in the interim to impress 2019 free agents. It’s tough to add as much talent on expiring and one-year contracts as this year’s Lakers did.
And how long until Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson and Jimmy Butler fall through as targets? He’s not there yet, but Magic Johnson is moving one step closer to becoming like Jim Buss.