Well, well, well. The NBA trade deadline is rapidly approaching, and would you take a look at this!
The Lakers aren’t abandoning a summer pursuit of stars, but rather recalibrating their focus on a 2019 class that could include San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard, Golden State’s Klay Thompson and Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler, league sources told ESPN.
Let’s start with this: “Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.” – Sun Tzu, The Art of War.
It applies to the Lakers.
1) The timing of this report is too interesting to ignore. The idea of 2019 being the year for the Lakers has been around for a few months. Brian Windhorst said it on my radio show in October. So what has changed? Well, everything has actually changed for the better for the Lakers. The Cavs are a flaming dumpster fire. The Thunder lost Andre Roberson for the year, and have lost four straight after an uneven 1st half of the season. The Lakers have won 10 of 14 and given the injuries in the West, they’ve got an outside shot (fine, darkhorse) to sneak into the playoffs.
To get two free agents five months from now, the Lakers have to get off the contracts of Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson. The Lakers have played those two more lately, and both thrived in January. But LA is clearly not receiving the offers for them that it thought it might. With this story, they’re sending a message they won’t do anything irrational this week, or get swindled because they’re desperate for LeBron. Read between the lines, 29 other NBA teams:
Pushing back a year on big-game hunting in free agency could serve two purposes: It could alleviate the urgency to unload contracts at Thursday’s trade deadline and around the June NBA draft that could require the Lakers to attach future draft assets as incentives.
On the surface, if you read this story, the Lakers are going to whiff on their grand 2018 plans. Lakers fans will be surely crestfallen. But in reality, the Lakers are still in the best place of any team to chase two max free agents in 2018.
2) The Lakers were popped for tampering last August. It cost them $500k. The tampering charges centered around Paul George. If you’ll notice, everything out of Paul George’s mouth since then has been about how he loves OKC, blah, blah, blah. Maybe he does. Maybe the Thunder win a round or three in the playoffs and get to the Finals. Kevin Durant loved it in OKC for eight years and was all-in on the Thunder … until the time came to make a decision and he picked the Warriors. On the surface, today’s story helps distance the Lakers from any 2018 tampering. “Hey, we weren’t even targeting guys in 2018!”
3) In the last three weeks, all the news/speculation around LeBron has been about the Houston Rockets, then the Golden State Warriors, and now, the Lakers (once again). As I wrote last week, I’m of the belief LeBron wants to stay in Cleveland, and he’s begging Cavs owner Dan Gilbert to do something to improve the team. The problem is, nothing can be done. There’s no silver bullet; Kevin Love is hurt; DeMarcus Cousins is hurt (not that he’d put them over the top anyway); and the Thunder don’t appear to be willing to part with George.
It’s pretty clear that these are the only three teams in the running for the 2nd greatest player in NBA history.
I still believe the Lakers are in the driver’s seat to land LeBron. As for this:
it could allow the Lakers’ talented young core — including Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart — to further develop and become more attractive for veteran stars to join.
Well, here’s a quick history lesson: This is the Cleveland team that LeBron left the Miami Heat for in 2014:
33 wins, 49 losses
21-year old Kyrie Irving 20.8 ppg
Luol Deng 14.3 ppg
22-year old Tristan Thompson 11.7 ppg
22-year old Dion Waiters 15.9 ppg
Jarrett Jack 9.5 ppg
Anderson Varejao 8.4 ppg
Jack was traded in the offseason. In the middle of LeBron’s 1st season in Cleveland, the Cavs traded Dion Waiters, who was averaging 10.5 ppg through 33 games. Any way you slice it, that was a bad team that LeBron joined. But when you add two Top 20 players to it – LeBron + Kevin Love – presto, they win 53 games and get to the Finals.
Fact: If Ball, Ingram and Kuzma are retained, LeBron will be joining a team with much more talent than when he went back to Cleveland. Yes, LeBron isn’t the player he was back then; but Paul George is better than Kevin Love was, offensively and defensively. Yes, the West now is much more challenging than the East was then. But it’s the challenge LeBron needs, not ring chasing with a 60-win Rockets team.