NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.
The Lakers signed LeBron James.
Offseason grade: A+
OK, you want more?
The Lakers followed the summer’s biggest coup – not just signing LeBron, but locking him in for three years – with a dispiriting (or, depending on your perspective, comical) set of transactions.
Los Angeles didn’t lure Paul George or trade for Kawhi Leonard. Instead, the Lakers valued playmakers as if the best course isn’t giving LeBron the ball, talked about defense as if anyone who was once a good defender or has the physical tools will defend well and treated shooting as if floor spacing barely matters.
The good news: The Lakers are penciled into this plan for only one year.
The bad news: It’s a year of 33-year-old LeBron’s eventually ending prime.
The Lakers have essentially assembled three contingents:
- Veterans on expiring contracts (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, Michael Beasley, JaVale McGee)
- Young players with upside (Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Ivica Zubac, Moritz Wagner, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, Isaac Bonga)
They’ll have a chance to prove me wrong, but I have little faith in those veterans complementing LeBron well. And most of them didn’t come cheap – Caldwell-Pope ($12 million), Rondo ($9 million), Stephenson (room exception), Beasley ($3.5 million). If anything, Caldwell-Pope – whose shared agent with LeBron, Rich Paul, might have forced the Lakers’ hand with re-signing him to a generous salary – is probably the best fit.
That puts a lot of pressure on Lakers president Magic Johnson to assess the young players. Which will become capable of contributing to winning at the highest level before LeBron’s prime ends? Which should be traded for veterans? These are not easy questions, but it’s a much more enjoyable challenge than the one Los Angeles would have faced if LeBron didn’t come.
The Lakers went 35-47 last season, their best record in a half decade. LeBron changes everything.
But there might be a ceiling on the Lakers’ progress next season. Don’t ignore the departures of Julius Randle (to Pelicans) and Brook Lopez (to Bucks). Even Larry Nance Jr. helped the Lakers build credibility before getting shipped to the Cavaliers in a midseason trade that helped open cap space for LeBron.
This isn’t the end of the road, though. After convincing Luol Deng to relinquish $7,455,933 in a buyout, the Lakers are in line for about max cap space next summer. They also still have all those valuable young players to develop or trade. The cupboard is full of ingredients around LeBron.
Now, the Lakers must just find a winning recipe.
I don’t think this year’s plan is it, but whatever missteps the Lakers made this summer, landing LeBron overshadows everything else.
Offseason grade: A+