It’s been eight years since the Los Angeles Lakers have won a championship, which, for a franchise with 16 banners, can feel like an eternity.
A title won’t be on the line for the Lakers this summer, but the pressure to deliver will be comparable. This is the offseason the franchise have been building towards for years, and striking out is a nightmare scenario.
Almost every team in the NBA enters the summer with hope – hope of adding a promising prospect in the draft, hope of reshaping their roster through trades, and hope of landing a big fish in free agency.
The Lakers aren’t going into this offseason with hope, they’re going in with a mandate: turn this lottery team into an instant contender. Even though the franchise have finished with a losing record for five consecutive years, the expectations for the coming season are sky-high thanks to the position they find themselves in.
Not only are some of the best players in the league available – including the very best – but at least two of them reportedly prefer Los Angeles. And because the Lakers have an abundance of cap space, as well as the ability to create more, their dream scenario isn’t limited to luring one star, or even two. Theoretically, they could construct a whole new super team built on three pillars to potentially dethrone the Golden State Warriors.
Adding three stars would be a home run. Two? Fortuitous. One would be slightly underwhelming, but a necessary step nonetheless. Anything short of that and the Lakers will have failed this offseason, regardless of what else happens.
Since Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka took over the Lakers’ basketball operations more than a year ago, their focus has been on the summer of 2018, and now that it’s here the landscape couldn’t be lined up any better for them to take advantage.
LeBron James is the ultimate target and a gettable one for the Lakers through free agency.
After falling to the Warriors for the third time in four years, James’ championship prospects with the Cleveland Cavaliers have plateaued. The roster is in salary cap hell and the avenues for improvement are few, making a return to Cleveland an uninspiring choice.
Also working in the Lakers’ favour is the sentiment that LeBron’s other options are flawed. The Houston Rockets were one game away from knocking off the Warriors with a core of James Harden and Chris Paul, but adding James would require shredding the rest of the roster. The Philadelphia 76ers have the young talent to supplement him, but the on-court fit next to Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid would be awkward.
It’s not like the Lakers, at least as currently constructed, have a team that LeBron can compete with. What they do have, however, is the potential to surround James with veteran star power, while appealing to his off-the-court desires of growing his enterprise and situating his family.
Landing LeBron would change the Lakers’ entire trajectory and instantly put them back on the map. It may also mean adding Paul George.
The All-Star swingman, who grew up just outside Los Angeles, has been linked to a move out west for the past year. The Oklahoma City Thunder took a chance by trading for him last summer in the hopes they could convince him to stay long-term, but they failed to get out of the first round of the playoffs in a relatively disappointing campaign.
Now, the Lakers can pitch George on returning home, whether it’s as James’ sidekick or as the face of the franchise if LeBron doesn’t pull the trigger. The mutual interest is there, it’s just a question of whether or not the Lakers can come through.
George isn’t the only star who’s indicated he wants to be in purple and gold though.
To fit all three of James, George and Leonard under the salary cap, the Lakers would have to dump Luol Deng’s contract on the Spurs in the trade, which will prove difficult considering that’s not a pill San Antonio want to swallow. If only one or neither of LeBron and George sign, the Lakers could offer the Spurs a package that doesn’t include Deng.
Either way, Leonard will be the toughest star of the three to add this summer, but if he and the Lakers want each other badly enough, it will be hard to keep them apart.
In Leonard’s case, patience may be the best approach for Los Angeles. He’ll be a free agent next season summer and the Lakers can make a push for him without giving up any assets, as they’re about to do with George.
But if James and George don’t come, the pressure will mount on the Lakers to get a deal done now.
That’s just the reality the Lakers are facing in the coming weeks. The bar is set incredibly high, but it’s not at all out of reach.
Los Angeles have three shots at coming out of this summer with one of the 15 best players in the league. If the Lakers mystique is still alive and well, now is the time to prove it.
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