The Dream Scenario Within Reach
With the 2018 NBA Free Agency period set to open in just three days, it’s becoming clear that the Los Angeles Lakers and their front office duo of Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka may be able to pull off what previous Lakers management teams had failed to do, and that’s land not one, but possibly multiple All-Stars this offseason.
Before the Lakers fans get too nuts, there are a hundred variables that have to play out, but there seems to be a window that’s looking increasingly more likely as we count down to the opening of free agency.
So, let’s dig into it.
The biggest free agency fish in the pond is without question Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James.
It is important to state (and re-state) that no one within LeBron’s inner circle is talking about where LeBron is leaning. The narrative is LeBron’s agents will start this process on July 1 and listen to a small group of teams, and none of them are expected to have direct access to LeBron unless he wants it to happen. There won’t be an elaborate courtship process, in fact, there is a growing sense that his camp wants this resolved and off the table before July 4.
That bodes well for the Lakers quest to secure the biggest gem. The wrinkle for the Lakers is the notion that LeBron may be unwilling to commit to a team without proven players around him.
No offense to the Lakers’ rookies, but they are not far enough along to be enticing to LeBron’s quest to compete right away.
This puts the onus on the Lakers to be aggressive and act quickly. The belief is if the Lakers can secure one big name guy, they may move into the driver’s seat on LeBron.
The good news for the Lakers is they have the means to get to ample cap space to sign James outright, so this is really just about his decision.
Thunder free agent Paul George could be the lynchpin to everything the Lakers are trying to do, and that could bode well for the Lakers given George’s long and public affection for not only Magic Johnson, but the idea of playing for his hometown team.
Like James, there is a belief that George isn’t as interested in joining the Lakers by himself as he would be if there were another star there.
Given the friendship that George and James have together, there is a real scenario of “if you go I’ll go” playing out.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are said to be very much in the discussion, and if the Lakers miss on a major player, they could miss on George too.
The good news for the Lakers is like James, the Lakers have the means to get enough cap space to offer George a max level deal without help from a third team, so it too is about George simply saying yes.
Tweets from ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne last night suggest that the LA Lakers have again tried to engage the San Antonio Spurs on a trade for disgruntled forward Kawi Leonard. The initial word was the Spurs were not interested in a Laker deal around the draft, but that seems to have changed a little as the Spurs have surveyed the landscape of what’s possible.
The belief in NBA circles is the Spurs seem open to the idea of a Leonard trade, but that the cost is going to be crazy high and would likely require a third team taking on the contract of Luol Deng.
It’s being speculated by league sources that some combination of forward Brandon Ingram, guard Josh Hart and forward Kyle Kuzma would be a starting point on a deal. League sources also said it would likely take several draft picks to make something work, as those picks would have to go to a third team to absorb Deng and create a sizable Traded Player Exception for the Spurs.
It seems the Spurs are still in exploration mode on this, but given the domino effect obtaining Leonard could represent to the bigger Laker picture, it’s pretty clear why the Spurs would engage and also why the Lakers would get this aggressive.
The problem for the Lakers in obtaining all three All-Stars is the roster would be pretty thin. However, there are some cap loopholes that could play in the Lakers’ favor.
Pending free agent Brook Lopez currently represents a cap hold of $33.9 million, so he would have to be renounced to create cap space. However, Lopez’s camp seems to understand his real free agent market may not be great. His camp seems open to signing a one-year deal for the “room” cap exception, which would allow him to retain his Bird Rights next season where he could sign a new “we appreciate the discount” kind of deal in July of 2019.
The same applies to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Pope currently represents a $21.2 million cap hold, which would also have to be renounced to obtain the cap space needed to sign major free agents, but he too could sign for the veterans’ minimum and become “Early Bird” eligible next summer and sign a new “thanks for the discount deal.” Pope shares the same agency as James, so it’s not out of the question he considers it.
While the Lakers would be limited on what they could add after all of these moves, there is a scenario in which the Lakers roster could end up containing not only James, but also George, Leonard, Lopez and Pope. There is a good chance Lonzo Ball and incoming rookie Moritz Wagner remains as well.
Pending free agent Channing Frye could also opt to hang around on a veteran’s minimum deal too and retain his Bird Rights next season.
While it is far from decided on any of these fronts, there is a logical and plausible path for it all to work, the question is can the Lakers make it happen or will it all fall apart?
The Basketball Insiders 2018 Free Agency Diary drops tomorrow, we’ll keep you up to date on all the news, rumors and agreements that will start flowing this weekend, so make sure to swing by early and often.
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