With just a few days left until the pandemonium that is the NBA free agency period, there has not been a lot of noise about the Lakers. They haven’t lined up any meetings with the top level free agents of this class like Blake Griffin, Gordon Hayward, or Kyle Lowry, but that might just be their plan.
While the team has made some polarizing roster moves with trading D’Angelo Russell in return for Brook Lopez and cap space in 2018 and selecting Lonzo Ball in the NBA draft, they might not make the all-in push for stars that we have seen in recent summers.
General manager Rob Pelinka has made a point to try to retain as much cap room for next summer as possible, which might make the team less active this summer.
“We’ll be very strategic to keep the cap space in 2018,” Pelinka said after the NBA Draft. “We’ll be very sacred about that. We worked very hard to get into that position. So we’ll be smart in free agency.”
In 2018 when players like Lebron James, Paul George, Russell Westbrook, and Demarcus Cousins could all be free agents, the Lakers will look to make their push towards contention.
“the Lakers will mostly pursue players on one-year deals so they have enough cap room for when James, Russell Westbrook and Paul George possibly become free agents in the 2018 offseason.”
But there is a good deal of roster configuration to come in the next few months and essential needs for the team to address. They ranked near the bottom of the league in both three-point shooting and defensive rating.
The draft class Pelinka and Magic Johnson have brought in shows the emphasis put on both of these areas of need. Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart, and Thomas Bryant all offer tremendous upside and versatility defensively and have the capacity to be excellent shooters from deep. The front office will likely continue this approach with their signings this coming week.
They plan to target defensive specialists after finishing nearly last in most defensive categories last season. To account for Russell’s departure and Nick Young opting out of his $5.7 million player option to become a free agent, the Lakers also will target shooters. That could partly explain why Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson sent out a tweet on Wednesday to Clippers guard J.J. Redick, a post that was quickly deleted. As much as they want to attract stars again in 2018, the Lakers are also intent on acquiring veterans that will have a positive influence on their young roster.
With a good sense of where they want to go next offseason, this free agency period gives the Johnson/Pelinka tandem an opportunity to experience the frenzy first-hand without much detriment to the team.
If they stay quiet and don’t land more than a few impact role players, that would be fine, their sights are set for next summer anyway. In a way, the plan to wait it out for the better free agents in 2018 could be advantageous for the Lakers as they will have one round under their belts as they buckle up for the franchise-changing talents of James, George, and co.
It has yet to be seen if the vibe around the organization and the direction of the team has changed like Pelinka has stated, and we have no real way of knowing until next summer when they look to strike big.
“When you have that much cap space, we’re going to be major players next summer. The tide has turned,” Johnson said. “People want to play here again. It’s exciting times for the L.A. Lakers. I wouldn’t have made that move if I didn’t think I could use that money.”
“I always bet on myself,” Johnson said. “I’m fine where we are.”
With a smart and patient approach for the future, the Lakers could have the option to sign two max contract players in 2018 to go along with their young core. This has been the plan for the past three summers and we all know how that worked out, but the renewed excitement from the front office should give fans a bit of hope.
Johnson has the legendary presence that the Lakers lacked with Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss, but will it be enough? One thing is for sure, they are confident in their ability to lure those stars to the purple and gold.