“No pressure on me…Do you know how many Finals I been in? You think I’m worried about this?”
“This” is referring to the Lakers free agency plans. And those words came from Lakers President of Basketball Ops, freestyling to the media at Tuesday’s introductory press conference for draft picks Mo Wagner and Svi Mykhailiuk. Magic was responding to a question about how much pressure he feels, in this role, to deliver on the promise of adding marquee free agents this summer (or next).
Magic also said that he’d step down in two years if the Lakers aren’t able to secure the types of free agents they seek either this summer or next. These comments were seen as reflective of Magic’s competitiveness or, you know, his confidence. Either works here.
One can question how wise it is to offer deadlines about stepping down — that didn’t work out for the last guy who ran the Lakers front office — but Magic has the ability to sell something different than Jim Buss did. Plus, as he reminded us on Tuesday, he’s Magic Johnson.
Moving beyond deadlines and confidence, however, there is something else worth diving into.
There seems to be a growing sense that the Lakers are now in a bind; that proclamations from Magic (either via the quotes above or ones he’s made since he got this job) or urgency to get better after 5 straight lottery seasons or simply that they’re the Lakers have positioned the team to need to do something to get better. If that something is mortgaging everything they have in their coffers to secure top end talent now, so be it.
Wednesday morning ESPN posted a piece co-authored by Adrian Wojnarowski, Ramona Shelburne, and Brian Windhorst. There may not be a heavier hitting trio in NBA coverage than these three, particularly as it relates to league-wide news (Woj), the Lakers (Shelburne) and all things LeBron (Windhorst). That piece basically laid out all the reasons why, despite Magic still preaching patience through this summer and next, the Lakers are facing mounting pressure to trade for Kawhi Leonard in order to facilitate LeBron landing in Los Angeles.
Before I go further, let me just say, I’d love for the Lakers to be able to trade for Kawhi and sign LeBron James. I’d love for them to be able to sign Paul George and James. I’d love for them to only sign LeBron. These are some of the best players in the league. If there’s a way to make these things happen, that’s great!
In saying that, though, if the Lakers don’t do any of those things…that is not a bad thing. But you would not know it from the tenor of the conversations which are happening around the Lakers right now. Be it nationally or locally, everyone seems to believe it is now or never for these Lakers. That if they want to get back to the top of the league, this is their chance.
I’m here to tell you I do not believe that.
Again, this cannot be overstated: getting top players now is the ideal scenario. Getting LeBron instantly catapults the Lakers back into the conversation of teams who have an opportunity to make deep runs into the playoffs (i.e. the Conference Finals). Getting LeBron and a player like Kawhi (assuming good health) or George puts them in a position to be in discussions for one of the 4-5 teams who can viably compete for a championship each season. Getting all three would be a result which, reasonable or not, would have teams talking about the Lakers as real rivals to the Warriors.
However, getting none of them doesn’t make the Lakers bad. It makes them a team with a handful of young players on the rise, two of whom are top-2 picks, who will carry forward cap space flexibility. These are things every team in the league would want. Plant these attributes in the Los Angeles market under the umbrella of one of the historically great franchises and sports brands in existence and…you see where I’m going with this.
There are no bad scenarios for the Lakers. Not when every scenario is a good one. Give any GM in the league the opportunity to have the set up the Lakers are going to have this summer and next (and even in 2020 and 2021) and they’d take it. Maybe not over their current situation (the GM’s in Golden State, Houston, Boston, and Philly come to mind here) but the opportunity to build the next great Lakers team sounds fun to me. Especially when you consider their starting point, entering the summer of 2018.
So, I repeat, there are no bad scenarios here. The Lakers can end up with great talents via the free agent and/or trade markets and that would be amazing. But they can also continue to build with the young players they have, roll over their cap space, and continue to be opportunistic team builders. They can watch their under-25 talent develop and grow, cash huge checks from their TV deal and ticket/merch sales, and continue to drum up interest in an organization that is on the rise in one of the best markets in the league.
Show me where any of these options, taken at their face, are bad?
I get that the front office has contributed to the hype machine that contributes to, if not outright created, the optics on this in the first place. I also get that fans, especially Lakers fans, are not the most patient crop. So I understand how not ending this summer with stars in tow can be viewed as a major loss. I also think, if that were to happen, it then puts an insane amount of pressure on the summer of 2019 with a self-imposed deadline by Magic casting a huge shadow over everything.
None of that sounds appealing at all.
But, from where I sit, a lot of that is on the margins and noise that, while bothersome, doesn’t quite add up to being the deficit it is being made out to be when looking at the entire board. Because if the Lakers keep cap flexibility and their main core of young players (which for me, at least, includes Julius Randle) they are well positioned to continue to grow organically in a way that I think people can (and would) get behind.
And nothing about that sounds terrible to me.