To say the 2018-19 season has not gone according to plan for the Lakers after singing LeBron James, would be a massive understatement. The Lakers who were looking at the playoffs as the bare minimum and talking big about not being worried about the likes of Warriors over a 7 game series are now tanking the sh*t out of the season with the latest loss against the league worst Knicks shining a light on how far below expectations this season has fallen.
But the Laker fans remain optimistic (not like we could be any worse) ahead of a big summer free agency that will make or break the future of not just the Lakers but also the legacy of LeBron James. His legacy is cemented, but does he go out winning and competing like Michael Jordan (1995 retirement, not the Wizards one. Washington Jordan wasn’t real Jordan) or end his career whimpering on last legs on a lottery team like many other players, best recent examples being Dirk Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant, will depend on how this Summer plays out for the Lakers.
LeBron when asked about the Lakers strategy this summer to attract free agents decided to play it smart and not give a direct answer. He has faced a lot of wrath in the past and also this season for playing GM (LeGM is a lame nickname, I agree with the emotion, find a better name though) and is best if he stays out of the discussions even if he does get heavily involved in the sweepstakes once they begin.
His answer to the question about Lakers pitch was simple: I trust the Front Office, we have to win starting next season and I am sure we will get the talent required to get the wins the fans deserve.
He then went onto reveal how the Lakers want free agents to know that the Lakers want to win and that this franchise caters to the players; everything else can wait.
“I don’t know. Listen, at the end of the day this franchise wants to win & wants to win big, & one thing about the franchise is they cater to the players & that’s it. Everything else comes secondary.” LeBron said in his 29 word pitch for the free agents.
LeBron James on what #Lakers' message to free agents this summer will be: "I don't know. Listen, at the end of the day this franchise wants to win & wants to win big, & one thing about the franchise is they cater to the players & that's it. Everything else comes secondary."
— Ryan Ward (@RyanWardLA) March 17, 2019
But really, what is the Lakers pitch to the Free Agents? The pitch of cap space and good young core got LeBron (whether he wanted to play with the core or was enticed by their possible trade value in his GM game, no one outside of his “camp” knows). But that promising young core hasn’t done much to enhance its value. Maybe a superstar along with LeBron and healthy young core has a top half of Western conference playoff picture possibility. But is anything above that possible?
Do the Lakers make a trade for Anthony Davis finally? The Pelicans are once again in the news with rumors that they might still not be willing to deal with the Lakers in the summer even if they have the best offer. So what if theres no Anthony Davis? The Lakers can still clear enough cap space to sign the biggest contract that can be signed this off season with Kevin Durant who’s max would be valued at nearly $35.5 million for the 2019-2020 season.
With James, Ball, Ingram, Kuzma, Hart, Wagner, Bonga as the only players on the roster, the Lakers will have nearly $40 million left in cap space. That is Kevin Durant plus another approximate $5 million to use, apart from their exceptions.
So do the Lakers pitch an opportunity to play with LeBron along with rising stars of Ingram and possibly Kuzma along with the Ball who is turning into a great defensive player and efficient offensive player as long as he doesn’t have to shoot too much. Do players want to play with LeBron James?
They all respect the hell out of James and most of them seem good friends with him (see: KD, Kyrie, Kawhi, Kemba) but do they want to play second fiddle to him for the next 3 years? The media has done its best to talk up the narrative of players not wanting to play with LeBron, but how true is that? If it is true what do the Lakers do to prevent another star fading in the purple and gold after their terrible work in the free agency during Kobe’s final years?
What about looking for trades for the young core? If the Davis deal doesn’t pan out and the Lakers don’t want to bet on the development of their players, then the best option is to trade each player individually before Free agency begins.
The players values deflates when they are packaged together for a legitimate MVP contender in Anthony Davis. But look at them individually and they all present interesting pieces that other contending/rebuilding teams will value immensely (look at D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle).
In the recent years Lakers have been excellent in nailing their draft picks but their player development has been the worst I have ever seen. Lonzo Ball with his passing and defense in Phoenix?
It might just be the deal that makes Phoenix a fringe playoff team after years of being closer to the bottom of the league than anywhere near playoffs. Brandon Ingram can be an all-star contender on a team that is built around his talents and East has plenty of teams that can do that. Kyle Kuzma is a perfect bench spark plug in the NBA and scoring comes to him very easily.
All these players in themselves cant land a star, but add elite shooting and defense around LeBron, along with picks that can be used as assets for trades for further role players further down in the next season and its an appealing situation for any star to join into.
LeBron is not a star the way Kobe and Michael Jordan were. He has no problem deferring to other players and if the fit is good, superstar players will get plenty of opportunity to shine next to him. Los Angeles still remains an attractive market and most free agents this summer have a home in the city. Marketing and earning potential is as always the highest.
The Front office though, needs to know which player needs what sort of a pitch. They cant just keep feeding the LeBron and Los Angeles narrative. Players will have legitimate concerns, that they may or may not air about the rest of the roster, the focus on LeBron, coaching changes and every other factor.
The Lakers will go all out to get meetings with all stars after being surprised by Paul George’s decision to sign for OKC without meeting with them. But they need to avoid the mistakes made by the previous front office. They didn’t talk basketball and just hoped that their history and marketing potential of the city would be enough for stars.
But this era is different. Superstars are earning enough money to walk away from big money to sign elsewhere and play winning basketball. The Lakers need to decide what their path to winning basketball is, and convince the stars that their path would fit perfectly with the player’s path to glory.
Grin about LeBron, the weather of Los Angeles and the history of the Lakers and you will once again have players running out of meetings disgusted at being treated like a commodity rather than a basketball player.
The future hangs in the balance. Magic and Pelinka haven’t done much to justify the faith LeBron seems to placing in them. Will it turn out to be valid faith? Or is LeBron James one injury away from becoming the next player to have a Kober Bryant farewell season?