LA Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka has come under a lot of fire this offseason.
From reports of incompetence within the Lakers organisation – which included Pelinka lying about an encounter between Kobe Bryant and Heath Ledger – to the obvious incompetence shown in the Lakers front office the past year. While it is true Pelinka secured All-Star Anthony Davis, it appeared that the bumbling GM got a bit too excited and executed the trade before July 1st.
This gave Davis the option to claim a $4million trade kicker. A bonus for Davis but something that would put the Lakers out of the running for a third max contract player to fit alongside LeBron and Davis.
Lucky for Pelinka, and maybe in part thanks to LeBron’s upcoming blockbuster Space Jam 2, Davis elected to waive the $4 million allowing LA to go after a third superstar if they wanted to. I have assessed four max contract players the Lakers could go after in free agency.
This would perhaps be the most obvious and logical move the Lakers could make going after a max guy, if not for the fact the ineptitude of Magic Johnson, Pelinka and others within the Lakers front office decided to trade Russell in 2017 to the Brooklyn Nets.
Russell was seemingly traded for off the court issues – snitching on teammate Nick Young cheating on his partner. Why the Lakers chose to keep Nick Young over the talented Russell, whom they drafted a year earlier 2nd overall, remains a mystery.
On the court in Brooklyn, Russell has flourished and already reached the potential he showed early on in his career, leading a young Nets team to the postseason, Meanwhile the Lakers haven’t appeared in the playoffs since 2013.
Adding a point guard would allow LeBron to recreate his second stint in Cleveland; a young point guard who can create his own shot, LeBron and an All-Star scoring power forward. To add to this, in Cleveland’s championship season Irving averaged 19.6 points per game, compare this to Russell’s most recent season, Russell averaged 21.1 points per game whilst averaging three more assists than 2016 Irving, Russell averaging 7 assists per game to Irving’s 4.7.
Speaking of recreating the 2015-2018 Cavaliers, a reunion between LeBron and his partner in crime Kyrie Irving could be on the cards.
Having gone through a disastrous stint in Boston looking to ‘be the man’ Irving may have come to the realisation that playing with the greatest or second greatest player of all time was a pretty good deal.
There is no denying that Irving and LeBron were a dynamic duo having reached the NBA Finals together three years running and putting together one of the all time great Finals performances in 2016.
However, Irving’s desire to lead his own team has seemingly persisted and reports of him joining the Nets have been getting stronger by the day. Even if Irving was to head to Brooklyn instead of LA he could still impact the Lakers by inadvertently forcing D’Angelo Russell to head to the West Coast.
LA native and reigning NBA Champion Kawhi Leonard has been linked to a move to LA ever since he first expressed a desire to leave San Antonio in the 2017/18 season. In the wake of the Kevin Durant injury, Kawhi has quickly become the most sought after free agent this summer. After delivering Canada its first NBA title, Kawhi may feel that he has achieved his mission in Toronto. Even Raptors fans would agree the player has earned the right to decide where he goes next.
If Kawhi were to join the King and AD in LA then he would either assume the shooting guard position or the small forward position, pushing LeBron to the four and AD to the five. In terms of balance off the court the mixture of these three All-Stars is not so clear cut.
This past season in Toronto, Kawhi missed twenty-two games due to ‘load management’, LeBron James is thirty-four years old and Davis is not known as the most durable player. If, for any reason, LA is without any of their three stars then it could get messy.
Although, after witnessing the joy and expressiveness Kawhi displayed during the Raptors victory parade, as well as all the key pieces of the Raptors returning next season, the option to remain in Canada for at least one more season may well prove too tempting to turn down for Leonard. It would probably be best for LA to re-approach the Kawhi situation next summer when a thirty-five year old LeBron James is nearing the end of his contract.
Lopez may not be worth an estimated $30 million, nevertheless, the Spanish stretch five had a breakout year in Milwaukee shining in coach Mike Budenholzer’s ‘five-out’ offence. Lopez excelled at making slow big men defend out by the thee point line where they are less comfortable and, more importantly, out of the paint, unable to prevent a driving Giannis Antetokounmpo going to the rack. If the defending centre decided to help off Lopez and defend the basket then Giannis would kick it out to Lopez to splash a three at an average rate of 36% per game.
Milwaukee’s system would fit James perfectly, so it makes sense that Lopez, a key cog in that system, would be a valuable addition to the Lakers.
However, similarly to Russell, Lopez is an ex-Laker. Stupidly let go by Pelinka and Magic Johnson prior to this season. This may deter Lopez from returning to the circus that is the Lakers organisation, although, a max contract may be enough to change the centre’s mind.
The Lakers cannot win a championship this season purely on the backs of LeBron and Anthony Davis. If the Lakers were to add any of these max contract talents and surround them with rookie and vet. minimum talent then Los Angeles has a good chance to claim the title in a wide open 2019-20 NBA season.