Lakers Mailbag: How bright is the Lakers’ future?

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With the off-season in full effect and minimal news remaining regarding free agency, it’s time to start some baseless speculation and toss wild ideas around while waiting for the unveiling of the new Nike jerseys.

Taking all that into account, we asked our Twitter followers for some mailbag questions to try to drum up some noise and start our own speculating.

Nutella is overrated. I’ve had it. It’s alright. Not worth the hype. We’ll call it Jaylen Brown.

It’s the end of July. What else are we supposed to do as an NBA blog?

A real NBA question!

For those under a rock this weekend, Kyrie Irving reportedly asked the Cavaliers to trade him as he’s grown weary of playing in LeBron’s shadow.

Trying to figure out a landing spot for him is rough because it’s nearly impossible to find equal return for him. One of the most talked-about teams, at least on Twitter, is Phoenix. The Cavs and Suns had discussions about some version of a trade that included Kyrie Irving for Eric Bledsoe and the No. 4 pick, which became Josh Jackson.

Say that deal, in some capacity, gets done and Irving plays for Phoenix alongside Devin Booker. He’s probably not going to be a starting guard in the All-Star game with Steph Curry and Russell Westbrook still around. As a reserve, he still is one of the favorites along with Klay Thompson, Paul George and Chris Paul. Irving is still elite on offense and I think he’d make the ASG more often than not.

For those that have kept track of the 2017 off-season with an eye on the 2018 off-season, things are shaping up very nicely.

With the Spurs handing Pau Gasol 48 million American dollars today across three years, the crowd of teams who can offer a max to LeBron James.

As it stands, not including cap holds, the Lakers have $51 million in cap space. The only teams ahead of them are Philly with $61 million and Chicago with $53. That is your full list of teams who can offer James a max deal next summer without making a move.

Now, the likes of Dallas, Atlanta and Brooklyn are about one move away from clearing enough space to offer James a max. However, the Lakers are one Luol Deng trade from having something close to $60 million in cap space with Julius Randle’s cap hold.

If you can move Clarkson and Deng both without taking on salaries, then you’re looking at the possibility of having two max space slots while still retaining Randle.

We’ll have a more detailed breakdown of this coming in the near future, but the gist of this is that the Lakers are absolutely in the driver’s seat for 2018.

So this is an interesting outcome for free agency next year. The likelihood of landing one max-level free agent is slim and landing two in one summer is nearly unheard of.

So what if we land Paul George or James? Where do we go from there? Well we broke down some of the cap numbers above to give you an idea of what type of cap space we’re looking at. George’s max is roughly $30 million, giving you a bit more leeway.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s max deal is much less that George or James. While the figures aren’t finalized, it’ll be in the neighborhood of $25 million. It would take a little maneuvering, but it wouldn’t be too hard to land both George and KCP.

Now, whether the team would want to do that is another option. Maybe they extend that deal to Brook Lopez instead. Maybe they give it to a different free agent. However, they’ll have a healthy amount of money (around $20 million without any trades) to surround George and the Lakers’ core with more talent.

Few things are more ironclad that Summer League hot takes from fans of every team. And to be fair to Laker fans this year, Kyle Kuzma was other-worldly this summer, winning the championship game MVP.

We talked about his performance and briefly touched on where he fit in with the Lakers. The main point is that Kuzma deserves, and will get, minutes.

Now, an important thing to note when projecting minutes is that Rob Pelinka stated multiple times that they envision Kuzma as both a power forward and small forward. The Lakers are remarkably thin right now at small forward, so much so that it’s likely that’s the position they spend their final roster spot on.

The factor we don’t know is how much Larry Nance and Julius Randle have improved. Randle is in a contract year and nothing motivates athletes more than being in a contract year. Nance, meanwhile, has a proven work ethic and has talked about working on improving his jumper this summer.

Nance and Randle are the proven guys here. They’ve proven they can hang at the NBA level. While I think Kuzma will contribute, I think he’ll have some ups and downs as any rookie would.

That being said, I envision the Lakers going smaller more this year with Nance and Randle playing the smallball five more, opening up power forward minutes from Deng, Kuzma and Brandon Ingram.

Long story short, Kuzma will see minutes. If he maintains his shot at the next level, he’ll see lots of minutes and even more minutes at the small forward. If the Lakers really want to embrace positionless basketball, don’t be surprised if Kuzma, Nance and Randle see time on the court together, maybe alongside Ingram and Lonzo Ball. Try it. This year should be for experimenting and figuring out what you have.

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