Welcome to Lakers Lair Three-Man Weave, a subjective Lakers-related column where our resident Lakers fans answer a series of questions regarding the Purple & Gold. For this offseason edition of TMW, the gang gathers to discuss LeBron James signing with Los Angeles, how Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka were able to finally land a star and how the Lakers should now play the Kawhi Leonard situation. Our participants this week are:
1. LeBron James is now a Los Angeles Laker. What was your initial reaction to the King’s move out West?
Cortes: I’ve had so many thoughts about LeBron officially becoming a Laker. My main reaction is… LEBRON JAMES ACTUALLY BECAME A LOS ANGELES LAKER. It’s been a while since the Lakers received this much national attention, reminiscent of the days when Kobe Bryant was leading them to the Finals. The Lakers were in a good position before LeBron committed. Now? They’re in an even better spot after adding the BEST player in the world. After all that losing to stockpile assets, it feels gratifying to have it actually pay off.
King: I’m still trying to wrap my head around it to be quite honest. It feels surreal to land the best player in the world at this time and to have him join the long list of greats to ever don the Purple & Gold. The team was due for a top-flight talent after struggling to land one the past few offseasons. No longer will the Lakers be in the lottery, but instead they will be back in the postseason, which is where Los Angeles belongs. The NBA is better when the Lakers are competitive and they’ve now put themselves back on the map.
LeBron James is officially a LAKER! pic.twitter.com/zMYzYndVHh
— Basketball Society (@BBallSociety_) July 2, 2018
Allen: I just smiled. I couldn’t do anything but smile! I was honestly shocked just because a part of me didn’t think he was coming to Los Angeles. I’m looking forward to seeing what he can accomplish with these group of guys. The excitement is there and it’s been a while since the Lakers had this much intrigue surrounding them.
2. Why do you think Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka were able to find such instant success in their pursuit of big-named free agents as compared to the Lakers’ old brass?
Cortes: They had a plan and executed it. It’s that simple. Acquiring LeBron James wasn’t something they just thought of recently. This was a plan that was implemented as early as the summer of 2017. They cleared the necessary cap space, nailed the draft, trusted the development of their players and the next thing you know, LeBron James is committing long-term to the Lakers. It also helps that you have Magic Johnson himself being the one to talk to the players. Rob Pelinka deserves his credit too, as well as Jeanie Buss. A lot of things had to go right for this to actually take place. Magic and Pelinka remained in the sweepstakes and just like he did in playing his career, Magic Johnson delivered for the Lakers.
King: I have a feeling it has to do with the personalities and how well the coach, GM, and VP of Basketball Operations all get along. Knowing that each one of them is on the same page and are attacking each 0ff-season move as a unit can really sit well with a visiting free agent. With former GM Mitch Kupchak and the long list of former head coaches (Mike D’Antoni to Mike Brown and Byron Scott), there was never consistency and that could’ve been off-putting for a player who went in for a visit with the Lakers’ old management. The old brass of Jim Buss and Kupchak, while great at one time, lost their mojo when Kobe left, and it showed in the lackluster signings that they tried passing off as tremendous finds that would prove to put the Lakers a bigger hole. With Magic and Pelinka they have this creative blueprint that centers around the idea of sustained success rather than winning now for a brief window. Having the cap space helped and so did adding exciting players in one single draft such as Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball, and Josh Hart. By having a young and hungry head coach in Luke Walton, Pelinka being a first time GM, and Magic’s upbeat personality and knowledge in free agent meetings, the Lakers were able to deliever a message based off what players NEED to hear.
Allen: Magic is a smooth talker and that’s well known around the league. He’s a guy that when he talks, you listen. I think he really sold James on the idea of playing for the Lakers and the fact that LeBron could relate to Johnson made it a no-brainer. The combination of Johnson and Pelinka brings a lot to the table. They’ve been around for a while and are affiliated with great talent and a great organization. Johnson knows how to win on and off the court and when they say they’re going to put a winning group together, you believe them.
3. How do you think the Lakers should play the Kawhi Leonard situation with LeBron now on the roster?
Cortes: With LeBron officially on the Lakers, the Lakers should play this as safe as they can. The little leverage the Spurs was rooted in the idea of “you can’t get LeBron without Kawhi,” but now that LeBron committed, San Antonio’s leverage is nonexsistent. At this point, Lakers should take a wait-and-see approach. If Kawhi stands with his demand, the Lakers are in a good position to acquire him. It looks like Magic knows that, which is why it’s reported that the Lakers haven’t been that aggressive in Kawhi pursuits. Oh, and a quick note: people are referencing Paul George as to why the Lakers should get Kawhi ASAP. I would argue that their situations are not the same, therefore, the approaches should be different.
King: Patience. You do not have to give up the house to get him. Kawhi Leonard is going to leave the Spurs at some point, whether that’s this summer, near the trade deadline, or in free agency next year. Leonard already stated he refuses to play for the Spurs next season and that leads me to think that he and his agent will try and get him out of their ASAP. If I am the Lakers, however, I know that Leonard is anxious and ‘hell-bent’ to play in Los Angeles so I can do two things:
1. Trade for him, however, I do not trade anything ridiculous like Lonzo Ball AND Brandon Ingram, it would have to be similar to what the Indiana Pacers got in the Paul George trade. Possibly Ball/Ingram, Josh Hart and two picks. The Spurs would get a return on their star rather than having him walk.
2. Wait until free-agency next-season. Assuming he gets traded, which I believe will happen sooner or later, he is going to be working off of a one-year contract before he hits the open market again. With that in mind, I feel confident that he goes to another team and then leaves in free-agency to sign with the Lakers while we still have all the pieces for him to play with like Ball/Ingram and Hart.
Bottom line: As the Lakers, you keep discussions with Leonard and his camp constant and make sure you express your desire to have him join forces with his former NBA Finals foe LeBron James via a trade or through free agency
Allen: I say they sit back and let the Spurs make a move. After the signing of James, there’s no need to stress and leverage is on the Lakers’ side. They already know that if they’re going to acquire Leonard, they’re going to have to give up some assets, that’s obvious. But at the same time, I would not be throwing the kitchen sink and giving up a ton. At the end of the day, Leonard can always sign with the Lakers after next season. Obviously, you run the risk of him re-signing somewhere else similar to the situation with Paul George. The Lakers have to be willing to part ways with some players but not give up too much at the same time.
4. With the complementary signings of Lance Stephenson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and JaVale McGee after inking LeBron, what do you think about the shape of the Lakers’ roster so far?
Cortes: I think what the Lakers are aiming for is guys who can either run the floor, be a playmaker, or can shoot the ball, which is obviously playing to LeBron’s strengths. I feel like the Lakers aren’t done making moves yet, this might just be the beginning of a bunch of moves in order to make this the best team possible for LeBron James.
King: I think it’s unfinished but a good start. Stephenson provides great energy and production off the bench as James’ back-up. Caldwell-Pope got unfair treatment in his first year from the Lakers faithful but I believe him to be a reliable knock-down shooter that’s athletic enough to defend, run the floor, and attack the rim. JaVale McGee is a hard diver to the rim, catching lobs and finishing in the paint. McGee also runs the floor well on both ends, giving energy and creating extra positions whenever possible. Not to mention an inside scoop on what the Warriors are doing. Moving Randle was one of the essential pieces to bringing in another max player and that was achieved when Randle left town for New Orleans on a two-year deal. The roster is shaped fairly well but I feel like another superstar is needed in an effort to win the Western Conference. Not only is a max player needed but the Lakers could use more shooting as James loves a good arsenal of shooters he can utilize when he tries to drive and dish.
Allen: I think we’re headed in the right direction. I questioned the signings of guys like Rajon Rondo, Stephenson, and McGee but I trust that management knows what they are doing. The Lakers are still in desperate need of shooters and I would have liked them to sign a few in free agency but things aren’t done yet and there’s still time to make some moves.
5. The LeBron James era lands the Lakers ___ championships?
Cortes: I don’t know, I’m still so hyped about LeBron joining LA. The championship conversations will take place when they need to.
King: Two. He ties Kobe Bean Bryant with championships at five and brings the Lakers more banners to hang in the Staples Center rafters, making them the NBA most decorated organization achieving an NBA record 18 titles. Clearly, they and he will want more, but the realistic expectation of only being on a four-year deal, the clock begins ticking and the pressure of playing in LA will be 10 times worse if he doesn’t bring a banner home. And not to mention he is going to have to get past some tough teams out West and as long as the Warriors stay in place, he might have trouble getting past them every year.
Allen: I agree with Randy. I see two championships coming. I think the Lakers will win back-to-back championships following this upcoming season. Mark my words!