Another — possibly more accurate — way to phrase the theme of this story: Hey, Gregg Popovich, if you’re trading Kawhi Leonard how many of our guys would you want?
The Lakers liked what they saw from their young core this season. Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, and Julius Randle all lived up to or exceeded expectations (some may have had outsized expectations for Ball, but he grew as the season wore on). The Lakers defended better than expected, played fast, and showed some promise.
However, not so much promise that they wouldn’t trade any of them for one of the game’s true superstars. From Tania Ganguli of the Los Angels Times, on the Lakers’ offseason:
While they like their young core and would prefer to keep those players growing together, they have told teams no player is untouchable in trades, according to multiple sources who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of trade and free-agent negotiations.
To be clear, the Lakers are not actively shopping any of their players. They are willing to listen to offers and could move one of them — even a member of the talented young cadre of Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram or Josh Hart — if an offer blows them away.
That’s just smart management. The Lakers should not be wed to any of those guys. That doesn’t mean actively call and try to trade them, it means don’t hang up when your phone rings.
After watching a lot of Lakers this season (in person and televised), it’s hard not to like their young core. However, what they have are players three through seven or eight on a championship team. Maybe Ingram can grow into a No. 2. They are all quality players, but the Lakers do not have the “alpha” — the top-10 NBA player, the franchise cornerstone — among them.
If one of those kinds of players becomes available — Leonard in San Antonio, Karl-Anthony Towns in Minnesota, another player unexpectedly put on the trade block — the Lakers should offer anyone and everyone on the roster. Those elite players are the hardest to get.
Los Angles is one of the few teams — thanks to the city and the franchise brand — that can draw that level of star as a free agent. However, guys like that so rarely are available, if the Lakers can trade for one they should. Don’t bet on the free agent market in a year, too many things can happen to change a player’s mind (or change is value due to injury).
It should be noted Lakers’ management seems to be downplaying expectations going into this summer. Read into that what you want. There are only a handful of elite free agents — LeBron James, Paul George — and if the Lakers don’t land those, this is not a management team that’s just going to overpay the next Timofey Mozgov to fill up the cap. They will sit on the cash until the deeper summer of 2019 class of free agents. Which is the smart move, but it may not sit well with an impatient fan base.