What seemed like the start of a Hollywood-hit has turned sour for the Los Angeles Lakers in less than a year.
The Eastern Conference is finally free from the siege that James held over the field for the better part of a decade. The Western Conference inherited LeBron as he was entering his 16th season. The Lakers were back in business with the GOAT and Magic! But then..
The injury bug bit hard. The young core did not progress as much as many hoped. Paul George extended his contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder. The attempted jailbreak for Anthony Davis was unsuccessful as well. This series of unfortunate events climaxed with the sudden yet understandable departure of Johnson who realized “Wait I’m rich so I don’t have to have this difficult of a job!”
While fans who have been rooting for parity are enjoying the new wide-open chase in the East, it is hard not to remember the excitement and expectation that came along with LeBron James’s decision to once again leave Cleveland to attempt to restore winning times under the banner of purple and gold. Surely the Los Angeles Lakers brand combined with the majesty of James would be enough to bring in another max-level superstar and push for a title, right?
Since then, everything that could have gone wrong absolutely did for the Lakers and this NBA playoff chase is not doing much to help their case for free agency this coming summer. The Los Angeles Lakers have another max-slot and a young core that they can pitch to potential studs. The problem is there are two teams that have those same characteristics and they MADE the playoffs.
The Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Clippers each have rosters that are built to support a superstar. Brooklyn made a splash this year doing much better than expected behind an outbreak season from budding star D’Angelo Russell. Caris Levert was their leading scorer before an early-season injury and Spencer Dinwiddie could be a 6th man of the year candidate (if he doesn’t end up starting somewhere instead) for the next decade.
The Clippers have rookies Landry Shamet and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander already contributing at a high level in meaningful playoff action. They may not have the same ceiling as Brandon Ingram but they play efficient low-mistake basketball and that is a winning formula alongside a max-level talent.
Once the NBA playoffs are over, all attention will turn to Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving and other free-agents who have the power to change a team’s fortunes overnight. There is a real chance that nobody decides to go to the Lakers, deciding that LeBron in his 17th season surrounded by an underperforming young core isn’t enough. There will be a new head coach and a new president of basketball operations. The Lakers front office doesn’t have the stability or Hall of Fame coach to pitch that their roommates across the hallway do.
So what happens if the Lakers strike out this summer? They could focus on free-agency and fill gaps in hopes that Anthony Davis will come to them in free agency next summer. They could also put together a package for a co-star from a bad team (Bradley Beal, Blake Griffin, Kemba Walker if he re-signs.) The trade scenario seems unlikely according to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin. On ESPN LA 710’s The Sedano Show, McMenamin reported that the Lakers have informed coaching candidates that their focus is on making a blockbuster signing in free agency.
“I’ve heard that some of the discussion that the coaching candidates have had with Lakers management has been (directed) more-so towards their plans for free agency this summer versus their plans to change their roster via trade. And so, if they’re not going to go for a roster-shaping trade this year and it’s gotta be through free agency… you either show up or you don’t.
If the Lakers do not show up in free agency there are some harsh realities to face afterward. Does LeBron stay in LA on a talented but uncompetitive roster or does he force a trade? Will Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, and Lonzo Ball take a leap forward and diminish the need for another superstar?
Los Angeles likely has confidence that Anthony Davis still wants to come to LA in 2020 on his own. However, the success of the Nets and Clippers are not doing them any favors. After a disaster of a season, the Lakers need something to go right this summer.