The Lakers (and their fans) have always viewed this summer as one where they would be able to retool and grab talent in free agency. It is no coincidence Kobe Bryant’s contract expired this year or that when the Lakers did not sign top flight free agents the past two summers they did not throw long contracts at mid-tier talent. They instead signed or traded for players on short term deals which would keep their cap relatively clean this summer.
They have preached flexibility for years and this summer was a major part of that. Or, more accurately, Kevin Durant was a part of that. Getting a chance to pitch Durant on the merits of being a Laker and, potentially, bringing whoever else he wanted with him was an opportunity this franchise wanted to have. It may have been one they were even counting on. It seems, though, they may not get it.
After an initial list of teams Durant would meet with did not include the Lakers, Sam Amick is reporting the Lakers are unlikely to get a meeting at all:
Despite years of speculation about Durant possibly signing with his hometownWashington Wizards or the Los Angeles Lakers, a person with knowledge of his situation told USA TODAY Sports that those two teams are not expected to land a meeting with the former MVP. As it stands, it’s the six aforementioned teams coming Durant’s way at a location that has not yet been determined.
First, situations like this can be fluid and the Lakers can still potentially butt their way into the conversation. But after Durant said himself that his free agency was going to be a “basketball decision”, a simple look at the group of playoff teams he plans to sit with explains the Lakers’ absence.
Second, if you were wondering why the Lakers’ were always open to a blockbuster trade, even if it cost them the #2 overall pick, this is why. Durant was never really going to come to this version of the Lakers — the one with four or five 1st, 2nd, and 3rd year players who would flank him as his primary teammates. No, if Durant entertained coming to the Lakers it would involve him joining at least one other all-star level player and likely two. In recent days it was said the Lakers were looking to be blown away by offers in a trade and one can only imagine that meant they wanted the type of haul which would serve as a foundation which could lure Durant (and/or other top tier free agents).
The Lakers youth has promise, but they are not established. For Durant, this is surely a non-starter. He reportedly wants to go to a place which will allow him to win a championship as quickly as possible. Looking at the landscape, that’s not with the Lakers as they are currently constructed. I would imagine his final choice is likely to come down to staying with the Thunder or going to the Warriors or the Spurs. They are the teams chasing him who offer that chance.
While this scenario playing out this way is a blow to the Lakers, it’s understandable and, on some levels, okay. The Lakers, as much as we would want them to just snap their fingers and become instant contenders, are still in the beginning phases of their roster development.
Their young talent is not yet proven enough to fetch all-star talent in return by themselves. They must be grouped together in the types of 2-for-1 or 3-for-2 trades which deplete their talent base exponentially. The Lakers’ front office, however, surely doesn’t want to surrender all the assets they have accumulated over the years in trades or swaps for more established players who might net them a chance at a superstar in free agency.
Deals like that might get the Lakers closer to contention, but they also offer no guarantees at landing the bigger fish while also limiting more long range plans at contention. What the team would really want is to hold onto as many of their young players as possible while still being able to grab the big name player in free agency. That’s simply less possible when the Lakers’ young players are at this stage of their development.
Maybe next summer that is different. Maybe one or more of their young players make a substantial jump in their development. Maybe they also net an upper-tier free agent this summer and then dive back into the stronger unrestricted market next summer with that high level player (and improved young talent) as the draw.
But that is down the line. And today is not down the line. Kevin Durant seems to recognize that. And as much as the Lakers (and their fans) would want that to be different, I’m guessing they recognize it too.