Things slowing to a crawl around the Los Angeles Lakers isn’t exactly the same as it is for another franchise.
When the above happens to teams outside Los Angeles during the offseason, it’s almost easy to forget they even exist (remember the Orlando Magic?). Not the Lakers—things have slowed, meaning the team still has its name pop up with several notable free agents while speculation centered on 2018 starts first and foremost with them, too.
Call it the baby that Magic Johnson and the front office built. It’s quite clear, through recent moves and the rumblings surrounding potential transactions, the team is all about the future while seeking out help in the backcourt.
Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News recently provided a nice roundup of rumblings concerning the backcourt:
“The Lakers have insisted on remaining patient while they evaluate their options, which include recently waived guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, veteran guard Rajon Rondo, veteran guard Rodney Stuckey and 22-year-old guard Tyler Ennis, according to league sources. The Lakers also pursued Boston guard Avery Bradley before the Celtics ultimately traded him to Detroit to help clear salary cap space.”
Where to start, right?
It’s clear the Lakers need some help behind Lonzo Ball at the 1, which makes the decision to trade D’Angelo Russell in the first place a bit of a head-scratcher. Clearly the front office viewed it as a necessary evil to shed Timofey Mozgov’s miserable contract, but the debate between cap space and a high-upside player isn’t one settled anytime soon.
The names mentioned at least make plenty of sense. Rondo has drawn rave reviews as a leader over his last two stops, a year ago averaging 7.8 points, 6.7 assists and 5.1 rebounds per game over 26.7 minutes while helping the Chicago Bulls make noise in the playoffs.
If the Lakers want to go younger at one of the two spots, Tyler Ennis certainly classifies as a quality option. The former No. 18 pick in 2014 is still 22 years old and last year on a career-high 17.8 minutes per game with the Lakers, he posted a career-best 7.7 points and 2.4 assists with a career mark from three-point range (38.9 percent) to boot.
Rodney Stuckey is perhaps the most interesting name of all because he’s a realist about the situation. Now 31, Stuckey enters the market looking for a situation like Los Angeles after averaging 7.2 points per game last year over 17.8 minutes.
According to Medina, he’s more than willing to act as a rental behind Ball:
“Stuckey is open to fulfilling a mentor role, playing shooting guard or point guard either in spot minutes as a reserve or extended minutes alongside rookie point guard Lonzo Ball. Stuckey is also aware of the fact the Lakers will only offer one-year deals to preserve their salary-cap space to pursue potential free agents such as LeBron James, Paul George and Russell Westbrook next summer.”
The question changes upon hearing this—who else might be comfortable joining the Lakers as a rental before hitting the market again?
What about Kentavious Caldwell-Pope?
It should go without saying, but the Lakers obviously have interest in a guard with major upside coming off a season in which he averaged 13.4 points, 2.5 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game.
On paper, KCP and his representatives might see the value of posting a monster season with the Lakers on a big-money deal and then hitting the open market again looking for a long-term commitment somewhere with lots of guaranteed cash.
The Lakers seem to reside on such a wavelength, according to Wojnarowski:
Such a deal isn’t a new approach for the Lakers this offseason. They floated something similar at Dion Waiters, per Wojnarowski. Same thing with George Hill, also per Wojnarowski. In both cases, the players chose different landing spots with more years tacked on to their contracts.
The saving grace is this doesn’t seem like players using the Lakers as leverage to get more money elsewhere like they have over the past few years. This is players with interest in a team with a developing core finding out the team really won’t offer anything more than a short-term deal while it eyes 2018—meaning a trade for a player already locked into a contract would make sense.
The Lakers also tried this with the Boston Celtics and Avery Bradley, according to Wojnarowski: “The Los Angeles Lakers and L.A. Clippers were aggressive suitors for Bradley in the past 24 hours, league sources told ESPN.”
Bradley, 26 and one of the league’s best backcourt defenders, would’ve been quite the boon for the Lakers given his age and traits, making him a strong mentor for Ball.
But the conservative nature of the Lakers while looking ahead to 2018 struck down any chance the team had at Bradley as well—those Pistons had to cough up a starter to make a deal for Bradley materialize.
Here’s what fans don’t want to hear—all this noise might culminate in the Lakers falling back and signing a prospect like Ennis to a deal while waiting for this time next year. It’d be a disappointing turn of events given the hype, but as the market has already shown, free agents aren’t going to jump at the idea of a short-term rental situation for big money if a team isn’t contending.
The Lakers aren’t, at least not yet. This is a tightrope that teams in similar situations walk though, like the buzz itself, not entirely. The microscope is amplified for the Lakers given the expectations and years of asking fans for patience.
So far, Magic and the front office are asking for another year of patience while watching Ball and Brandon Ingram develop.
All stats and info via ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.
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