Uncertain Future for LeBron James and his LA Lakers
Laker fans who, for close to a decade, had not had much reason to celebrate, rejoiced this summer as the biggest name in all of free agency, maybe the biggest ever, LeBron James, decided to take his talents to Hollywood. It was a major coup for a rookie front office that had worked hard to create two max cap slots to sign two big names and immediately launch the Lakers into contention.
But what has followed the singing of LeBron James has been a sorry showing for Magic Johnson, Rob Pelinka and the Lakers. The first major domino to fall was Paul George, who the Lakers were certain of landing after both sides constantly flirted with each other before the George's Free Agency, with Magic's interview on Jimmy Kimmel, being the peak of Lakers tampering, that led to a $500,000 fine on the organization.
After all of this, when George refused to even meet with the Lakers, before resigning with the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Lakers were in disarray. There wasn't a lot in terms of All-Star talent available in the Free Agency and the Lakers decided to alter course and wait till the rich 2019 Free Agency class to pair LeBron with a second star. While the strategy was solid, it did leave the matter of the 2018-19 season and what direction the Lakers front office would take for LeBron's first season as a Laker. While LeBron does look like he is not human, continuing to dominate the NBA at the age of 34, there will come a time when he slows down. Father time. It comes for them all.
So wasting one entire season of LeBron James was out of the question. The Lakers decided to use their available cap space for one-year deals on veterans who would help James compete, maybe not for the title but for a solid postseason run, while helping in the development of the young core in Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart. All good on paper, but the veterans Lakers signed were a terrible fit right off the bat. It doesn't take an analyst to know that a team with James needs solid defenders and more importantly, 3 point shooters due to the host of defenders LeBron draws on offense.
Michael Beasley, Lance Stephenson, Rajon Rondo and JaVale McGee were nowhere close to the volume 3 pointer shooters Lakers need with only Kuzma and Hart being above average 3 point shooters on the team. The group of journeymen they signed have not proven to be a good fit as the Lakers languish in the 10th position of the Western Conference, behind the Sacramento Kings. Let that sink in.
The entire Anthony Davis debacle has now put the Lakers in a terrible position. Their young players know how expendable the front office and its star player deems them, their pursuit for free agents yielded Reggie Bullock and Mike Muscala, both rentals till the end of the season and not in themselves enough to move the needle for the Lakers even if they do make the playoffs. The buyout market has yielded no returns as yet with top Laker targets having already signed elsewhere:
Wesley Matthews - Indiana Pacers
Wayne Ellington - Detroit Pistons
Enes Kanter - Portland Trailblazers
Markieff Morris - Oklahoma City Thunder
Even if you chalk off this season as a loss and look forward to the next season, the prospects don't seem much brighter. Most big free agents seem to prefer charting their own course in a different market away from LeBron's long shadow.
Kevin Durant seems to be heavily linked to the Knicks or he could just stay with the Warriors and win a few more championships and he has stated how the media around LeBron is toxic. Given Durant's trysts with the media, it seems unlikely he would want to get involved in more of it.
Klay Thompson has stated multiple times that he wants to retire a Warrior and the Warriors are determined to pay him the max he is eligible for. All in all, sounds a pretty done deal unless something changes drastically.
Kemba Walker. If there has ever been a player who has been loyal to a fault, is Charlotte Hornets' Kemba Walker, who despite the franchisee's failure to build a contender around him, has been steadfast in his desire to be a lifer for the franchise.
Jimmy Butler reportedly did not mention the Lakers among his preferred destinations while requesting a trade from the Timberwolves and seems unlikely to look at them in the free agency if he decides not to sign with the 76ers.
Kyrie Irving. Kyrie Irving has been a bit of an enigma throughout his career and his recent comments where he refused to commit to the Celtics in the long term right away, along with the relationship mending call he made to LeBron does create intrigue but there is no actual report linking Lakers and Irving in the free agency.
Kawhi Leonard is another player that does not seem to want to play with the Lakers under LeBron's shadow despite wanting to play in the city of LA. The Clippers' reemergence and their ability to pair two superstars along with a treasure chest of assets to trade for other pieces, does not bode well for the Lakers pursuit of Kawhi.
Anthony Davis is not a free agent, but the Pelicans will deal him this summer after resisting multiple Laker bids during the trade deadline. If Boston re-signs Kyrie and offers Jayson Tatum to the Pelicans, they will trade him to the Celtics. If not there are other options in the form of Raptors, Knicks and Clippers. The Pelicans feud with Lakers diminishes the possibilities of this deal even if the Celtics don't agree on a deal with the Pelicans.
If all this transpires, the Lakers will have to use their cap to sign a second string star and hope that their core of young players produces a star or two. If not, the Lakers might be staring a long unhappy future, just a year removed from signing the biggest name in NBA Basketball.