For the last year, I’ve been on record predicting the Lakers will get LeBron and Paul George in free agency. I still feel that way with less than a week before the madness begins. That being said, I really didn’t like what Magic Johnson said Tuesday, boldly – foolishly – announcing that he’d “step down” if the Lakers didn’t deliver in free agency in 2018 or 2019.
Here’s why he could regret it, and quickly:
The Lakers are the only team (as of now) that can fit two max players onto their roster this summer without having to make dramatic changes. That’s the good news. This is why I’ve been driving the LeBron James and Paul George Lakers bandwagon. Nobody else can slide them in. The 76ers would have to make major moves to get both; the Rockets can only get one; the Clippers (as of now) are on their way to affording one of them. (Warning: Don’t ever count Jerry West out.)
This should make Magic Johnson confident, right? This is where it gets tricky. Let’s say LeBron has a last minute change of heart, and decides he just wants to stay in Cleveland for one more year, and the Cavs do something unforeseen … like rent Kawhi Leonard. They don’t have the assets for it, and it’d take a Hail Mary pass, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility.
Then Paul George has to make a decision: Leave $45 million on the table to play with young kids in LA, or stick around in OKC, secure generational wealth, and play alongside paintball buddy Russell Westbrook, who has averaged a triple double each of the last two years. (I couldn’t make that decision, but there’s at least a 25% chance PG’s scenario unfolds this way.)
So imagine if Magic whiffs on both of those, and he can’t pry Kawhi away from the Spurs. And then he watches as Jerry West swings a deal to bring the best two-way player in the NBA to the Clippers.
Then what? Boogie Cousins? Historically, players who suffer a torn achilles don’t rebound quickly (if at all) and Cousins is a 270-pound guy who would be lucky to return and play like Elton Brand did. I’d take him off the table.
So now you’re pushing all your chips into the summer of 2019, when players like Jimmy Butler, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson could hit the market. (You could put Kevin Durant in there, but let’s wait to see what happens with him this summer.) Who know if any of them actually hit the market.
What if the Warriors win another title? Do they just say to hell with the luxury tax, we’re paying him? (Probably.) What if Kyrie and Jimmy Butler head to Brooklyn? Or maybe the Celtics win the title, Kyrie is MVP, and stays in Boston?
And let’s not forget this – smart front offices will have had an extra year to prepare for 2019, so the Lakers will have more competition for two max players. The Clippers are headed in that direction. Maybe the Knicks finally make lemonade out of all those lemons. A lot can happen in 12 months, and you’ve got to wonder – if the Lakers whiff this summer, are they suddenly a punching bag because they really can’t get anyone? It’s hilarious to think players could view LA that way, but remember this is a nuclear scenario.
Personally, I think Magic lands LeBron and Paul George next month. If the Lakers get neither … gulp. Start the clock on Magic Johnson’s tenure in LA.