The Los Angeles Lakers are trying to figure out how to turn around their fortunes after four straight seasons of missing the playoffs.
Drafting Lonzo Ball with the No. 2 overall pick could help, but fans shouldn’t expect much of an improvement going into next season. This is because the team isn’t necessarily looking at 2017-18, instead focusing on what could happen beyond.
Immediately after announcing the D’Angelo Russell trade, Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical noted the squad is clearing space for the potential arrivals of Paul George and LeBron James next summer in free agency. Instead of considering these pipe dreams, it will instead impact how the team treats the upcoming offseason.
Ramona Shelburne of ESPN reported last week the plans to sign short-term deals, mostly one-year contracts with a second-year option. This keeps the “sacred” cap space for the 2018 offseason.
The problem is, while George does seem prepared to join the Lakers when he is a free agent, nothing is certain.
Sam Amick of USA Today reported Wednesday the Indiana Pacers star is “at a crossroads.” While signing with Los Angeles remains a goal, he will “remain open to the idea” of re-signing with a contender that acquires him. If the Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston Celtics or San Antonio Spurs trade for him this offseason and things go well, he could stay with one of those teams.
This could put the Lakers in a tough spot where the waiting game isn’t quite enough.
Chris Mannix of The Vertical discussed this problem:
Acquiring George one year before his free agency could also help the negotiating power once he does reach the open market. As Justin J. Page of ESPN noted, the Lakers would be able to offer the forward $132 million over four years when he hits free agency. Although this seems like a lot, whichever team he plays for in 2017-18 will be able to offer $177 million over five years.
This might be enough to keep the 27-year-old away from Los Angeles.
Trading for him now removes the temptation of extra money as well as giving him no options to play for a contender.
The challenge will be finding a trade that is acceptable to the Pacers without gutting the young core Los Angeles has built over the past few years. Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported Indiana’s interest in Brandon Ingram, although Magic Johnson didn’t want to give him up.
An alternative might be a package of Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and draft picks. With other teams afraid to overpay for a rental, the Lakers could instead lock down their future star.
Although this is a lot to give up for a player that could be signed for free, it opens things up for the future as the team once again becomes a legitimate destination for free agents.
George has already discussed the possibility of playing with Los Angeles native Klay Thompson, as Kelenna Azubuike told 95.7 The Game:
Of course, the big prize will be if LeBron James follows them to the City of Angels.
Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer reported earlier this month that the Clippers and Lakers are “viable destinations” for the four-time MVP, although Mike Wise of The Undefeated said later on Freddie and Fritz James would “never” be a Clipper.
However, James to the Lakers remains a possibility, even if it is a long shot. Even with a small chance, the team needs to pursue this route.
In the meantime, a core of Ball, Ingram and George will be enough to keep the squad moving in the right direction in the near future.
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