The NBA Combine has officially begun and with that executives and coaches from across the league are in Chicago to get a closer look at the talent of the future. That includes the Lakers’ decision making trio of Magic Johnson, Rob Pelinka, and Luke Walton who will observe and likely meet with both top prospects and later-in-the-draft talents alike due to their potential to land near the top of the lottery while also possessing Houston’s 28th pick overall.
The draft, though, isn’t the only thing Lakers’ observers are interested in. The team’s entire summer plan offers intrigue and, when given the chance to speak with him during their combine coverage, ESPN asked Magic about potential scenarios this summer. Magic’s answer might surprise you:
— Basketball Society (@BBallSociety_) May 11, 2017
Let’s be clear, Magic isn’t ruling anything out here. He says outright the team can still make a trade and he did not rule out the team exploring the free agent market for a difference maker. After all, with talents like Steph Curry (unrestricted), Kevin Durant (player option), Chris Paul (early termination option), Blake Griffin (early termination option), and Gordon Hayward (unrestricted) all potentially being available, it would be silly for Magic to say in May that any of those guys wouldn’t be targets come July.
That said, Magic stating point blank that his preference is to roll over the team’s cap space this summer to the summer of 2018 is news. And it comes with good reason. First, of the names listed above, none are “likely” to want to sign with the Lakers as free agents with the current state of the team. Curry and Durant are on the favorites to win the NBA title. Paul and Griffin, no matter how much they love playing in Los Angeles, are on a perennial playoff team who wins/flirts with winning 50 games a year. Leaving those teams to play for a team which just won 26 games is a major stretch.
Second, though, is that the free agent class of 2018 is also flush with talent. Beyond Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins, and DeAndre Jordan (early termination option), it remains to be seen what Russell Westbrook does this summer (he is extension eligible) plus Griffin and Paul could also end up delaying their free agency to 2018 by not exercising their respective ETO’s. Further, waiting another year comes with the added benefit of the Lakers potentially being even further along in their development as a team, making them a more desirable option for those FA’s.
The sense I get from reports and discussions happening around the league is that the Lakers are itching to make a move this summer. And, maybe that ends up still happening. Magic’s comments at the combine could be a smokescreen or they could be an honest representation of how he’s thinking now, with the caveat being anyone can change their mind at any time. That said, him presenting this idea of patience is a welcome one, if only to show that him and the rest of the FO really is trying to see the entire board.