The Los Angeles Lakers appear to be going all-in on colourful characters as they continued their series of head-scratching moves by signing the mercurial Michael Beasley.
Keeping in line with what they’ve done this summer, the Lakers added Beasley on a one-year, $3.5 million deal, according to ESPN.
Like those names, though, Beasley is only on a one-year contract, which means the Lakers will maintain financial flexibility for next summer when they’re expected to chase multiple stars in free agency.
For this season, the Beasley signing, so long as it’s guaranteed, means the Lakers are now at the max number of filled roster spots with 15.
Looking at the team’s depth chart, they’re deep at the guard and wing positions, but lacking for true centres, with only McGee and Ivica Zubac occupying that role.
LeBron James played a season with Michael Beasley in Miami. They had no major issues & LeBron said he respected Beasley's talent. I mean Erik Spoelstra decided Beas was unplayable in the postseason due to defensive lapses. But in fairness I don't recall him forgetting the score.— Brian Windhorst (@WindhorstESPN) July 20, 2018
Barring any significant moves, it appears as if the Lakers will head into the season looking to play a lot of small-ball lineups, which could utilise LeBron James at the five.
Beasley fits that style as a 6-foot-9 wing who can play inside and out, while theoretically defending multiple positions on the other end.
The 29-year-old’s offensive talent is unquestioned and though he’s never been someone who averages 20-plus points on a night-to-night basis, he has that kind of ability.
His efficiency has also improved later in his career as he’s shot over 50 per cent in three straight seasons and over 39 per cent from deep the past two years.
The real concern with Beasley is on defence, where he’s often lacked effort and focus.
Still, it would seem James is a fan of Beasley as unlike with Rondo, Stephenson or McGee, LeBron has played alongside the newest Laker before, back when they were on the Miami Heat for the 2013-14 season. Miami lost to San Antonio in the Finals that year while Beasley averaged 7.9 points on 49.9 per cent shooting in 15.1 minutes per game.
Whether or not the pairing is nearly as successful a second time around, the Lakers will be nothing if not interesting.
DeRozan, upset by the turn of events, had wrote on Instagram saying – “Told one thing and the outcome another. Can’t trust ’em. Ain’t no loyalty in this game.”
Ujiri revealed during the press conference in Toronto that the chance to seal the services of two-time Defensive Player of the Year Leonard was simply too good to throw away.
Although he admitted his regret having told DeRozan that he wouldn’t be traded.
“I want to apologise to DeMar DeRozan for a gap of miscommunication, but also to acknowledge him, and what he’s done here with the Raptors, for this city, for this country,” Ujiri said.
“I had a conversation with DeMar at Summer League, and I want to leave it at that. We spoke. I think maybe my mistake was talking about what we expected going forward from him, not necessarily about the trade,” Ujiri added.
DeRozan was instrumental in leading the the Raptors to five straight playoff appearances, but they came short in the past two post-seasons when up against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“You can’t do this same thing over and over again,” Ujiri said. “When you have a chance to get a top five player, we have to jump on it.”
The Raptors acquired Leonard and Danny Green and gave away DeRozan, Jakob Poetl and a 2019 first-round draft pick to San Antonio.
Leonard, meanwhile, made only nine appearances for Spurs last season due to injury as his relationship with the team went from bad to worse.
Leonard, it was rumoured, wanted a move to his hometown Los Angeles Lakers.
The 27-year old has reportedly let it be known that he isn’t going to play in Toronto long-term.
Although, Ujiri said the player “didn’t express a lack of interest to play in Canada to me”.
“I think there’s a lot of sell here, our team, our culture, our city,” Ujiri said. “We have everything here except the championship in my opinion.”
In the NBA, if you’re stuck in the middle, you might as well be in purgatory.
Before pulling the trigger on the trade for Kawhi Leonard, the Toronto Raptors weren’t exactly a mediocre, middling team. What they were, however, was a team that had hit their ceiling with their core group.
Winning a franchise-record 59 games this past season – and doing it by overhauling their style of play to become more modern – was a commendable achievement, but another sweep at the hands of LeBron James in the playoffs, especially when the two other East team took him to seven games, was the last straw.
As fresh as the Raptors felt all season long, the way they finished instantly made them stale again. They needed at least one major change to the roster this summer to push them in one of two directions: towards contention by significantly improving, or into a rebuild mode by deconstructing the core.
The beauty of the Leonard trade for Toronto is it allows them to pursue both avenues at the same time next season, before knowing their definitive road in a year’s time.
If Leonard enjoys his new surroundings and decides to stay – and, health permitting, returns to his old self as a player – the Raptors will have the best player in the conference and a team that is built to be a constant challenger for the Finals.
If he bolts after a lone season, Toronto will have cleared essential cap space, essentially giving them a cleaner canvas to work with.
Raptors know the risks involved with potential Kawhi Leonard acquisition, given his preference for playing in L.A. But they have great faith in their young players going forward regardless of what Leonard decides to do in 2019.— David Aldridge (@daldridgetnt) July 18, 2018
It’s not as if there’s no risk involved. If Leonard is only a one-year rental, then Raptors are postponing an inevitable rebuild instead of ripping the band aid off immediately. That’s hardly a sacrifice though when you can potentially compete for a championship in that year window.
If Leonard is fully healthy and engaged, Toronto have the potential to field one of the best and most versatile defences, while once again wielding enviable depth off the bench. They have all the tools to finish near the top of the conference again in the regular season before clashing with Boston or Philadelphia in the playoffs. And if they reach the Finals to meet Golden State, they’ll now have one of the very best weapons in the league against the Warriors.
What the Raptors are truly risking with this trade is learning a hard truth about themselves, the organisation as a whole and the market they play in. Like Oklahoma City attempted with Paul George and ultimately succeeded in, Toronto will try to appeal to Leonard and convince him to stay.
Leonard appears to be entering the situation not nearly as open-minded than George was, but there has been enough noise surrounding his desires that he may not definitely know what he wants, which means the door is ajar for the Raptors.
And general manager Masai Ujiri seems confident the franchise and the city can win him over – or at least come close. And what’s not to like? Toronto doesn’t have the glitz and glamour of Los Angeles, but it’s both a metropolitan and cosmopolitan city, situated in one of the biggest markets in the NBA. The team itself is good enough to compete for a title and the fan base is rabid.
If the Raptors can’t, at the bare minimum, make Leonard think long and hard about leaving next summer, that will be more disappointing than the ramifications of actually losing him.
That doesn’t mean other stars will feel the same way about Toronto – they just traded one away who was committed to the city and actually made it his home, despite hailing from the Los Angeles area. But they are gambling on themselves as much as Leonard, and no team wants to be made to feel they’re undesirable.
Still, it was time for the Raptors to raise the stakes and introduce more variance to the equation. It may not work out exactly how they hope, but in this case, even failure gets you further.