No matter which way you cut it, the Lakers free agent plans offer a variety of scenarios with positive outlooks. Outcomes ranging from securing LeBron James and/or Paul George to getting neither and moving forward into next summer with financial flexibility while investing minutes and development into the team’s young players are on the table as viable team building options.
A key to what path the team ultimately takes, however, may not depend on a free agent at all. No, it’s Kawhi Leonard, currently under contract with the Spurs who may be the driver behind what direction the Lakers plans go in. A Wednesday report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Ramona Shelburne, and Brian Windhorst stated the Lakers are feeling pressure to trade for the Spurs star for this exact reason. And now, it seems, the Lakers are acting on that pressure and ramping up their efforts.
Update from this morning’s story. The Lakers re-engaged the Spurs Wednesday in aggressively pursuing Kawhi Leonard. Story w/ @wojespn coming shortly on ESPN. This is the first contact between the teams since the Spurs “shut the door” on them after an initial call.
— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) June 28, 2018
While there are no details about what the Lakers are offering the Spurs, we know that none of the team’s young players are off the table. How that translates to an actual offer, though, gets complicated quickly. Because while the Lakers surely understand that acquiring Leonard can be the key to unlocking the door to additional star talent, there are no guarantees free agents follow Kawhi to Los Angeles.
And even though the Lakers are in the talent acquisition business, they must also remember they are in the team building one too. Give up too much of your young talent to obtain Leonard without assurances other FA’s follow is akin to splurging on your main course but not having enough money left over for your side dishes. I mean, yeah I want a couple of racks of baby back ribs but not if I can’t have my collards, mac & cheese, and mashed potatoes too.
So, the Lakers must strike the right balance. Especially since they know they’ll also need to find a way to get out from under Luol Deng’s contract, which will likely cost them additional assets. Even if a Deng trade can be accomplished by attaching future draft picks (yes, the likelihood is it will take more than one), the Lakers best chance to be a true contender still involves at least one of their top young players and likely two/three of the current 5 player core (Lonzo, Ingram, Kuzma, Randle, and Hart).
How much can the Lakers afford to give? The answer to that likely depends on what intel they have about how James and George react to Leonard in the forum blue and gold.
If they’re on board, you can likely give up two of the Ball/Ingram/Kuzma trio to facilitate a trade. Give up even Hart in addition to that and you’re treading on thin ice. Lose Randle as a cap casualty on top of Hart too? You just gutted your team of all your young perimeter talent — the exact types of players you’re still going to need to compete with the Warriors even with a super trio of James/George/Leonard walking out to Lawrence Tanter’s baritone.
Just looking at those names gives you a sense of why the Lakers brass might just consider risking it all, though. The organization’s history is littered with players of this caliber. Their names and jersey’s hang on a wall next to all the banners they earned. But many of those names were home grown, too. Including, at least for these purposes, the most important one.
Magic Johnson played his entire career for the Lakers, from draft to retirement, and should understand the value of hanging on to some of these young guys. Of course, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Talks are just that – talks. Until something gets done, we’re all just speculating anyway. So now, we wait to see how receptive the Spurs are to the Lakers aggressive pursuits.