Lakers poised to hit the free agency jackpot or strike out again

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers-Press Conference
June 23, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers president of basketball operation Magic Johnson speaks to media before introducing newly drafted player Lonzo Ball as general manager Rob Pelinka listens at Toyota Sports Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

 

The past few years of free agency have not been kind for the Los Angeles Lakers. A few years ago their free agency pitch to the available “marquee” player was a washed-up singer for a band that hasn’t had a good song since 2004 wearing the jersey backwards. They tried selling more of a Los Angeles lifestyle without much mention of what they were going to do on the court.

They missed out on Kevin Durant in 2016.  (The entire summer of 2016 was horrible. I remember looking at the notification talking about Timofey Mozgov and I decided to lay on the floor thinking about the finiteness of life and wondering when the pain would end.) They missed out on LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony in 2014. Their best “acquisition” in the past six years or so is probably their coach: Luke Walton.

Let that marinate for a second.

A place that used to be so attractive for basketball players and the best player acquired through free agency was probably Nicolas Aaron Young or Louis Tyrone Williams.

Within a few days, we’re going to see if everything that’s happened since Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka started running the show will result in something substantial. Everything they have done has been leading up to the next few days. Ever since their appointment to their positions they’ve talked about how they want to make the Lakers a place to be again.

In a December 2017 interview with Spectrum Sportsnet, Magic said, “I think that Rob and I have done a wonderful job of really changing the narrative and changing the way agents, players, view the Lakers.” I don’t know what it is, but it certainly feels like it.

There’s an aura of optimism going around the team and that’s not just because of the signs that the Lakers might be getting LeBron and Paul George. Because in all certainty, there’s no telling for the next few days.

But if the Lakers strike out once again, it won’t be the end of the world. There is at least still a sense of optimism about the team. I can say that with full confidence in spite of the summers of 2013, 2014, 2015, you get the idea.

Back then, it felt like then the Lakers were waiting for the LeBrons or the Greg Monroes Durants of the NBA to join and make the team seem decent again. Albeit with another losing record, the past season might have been the most fun the Lakers have looked in years. There were so many injuries that affected the team but they were still just a few games away from that coveted eighth seed.

The Lakers no longer need free agents signings. If they don’t sign them, the foundation that’s set up feels very stable. Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma,  Julius Randle, and Josh Hart are a solid set of young players that have flashed the sort of potential you want to see out of a younger franchise. People have been saying “Oh look at the youth of the Lakers” for the past few years but before this year it couldn’t be said that they actively got better or were even on the verge of the postseason.

With all the news and speculation we have to accept that things might just not go the way fans want them to. For all we know Paul George might stay in OKC, LeBron might go to Houston, the Lakers might miss out on JJ Reddick again. There’s no telling until the next few days unfold.

Would striking out this summer be bad?  Yes.

Are the Lakers in a better position than where they were years prior? Again, yes.

It would be a failure to those who saw the D’Angelo Russell trade as the sign that they are going all out for free agency in 2018. But even with this summer being a disaster, the Lakers’ core still has room to improve and grow the following season.

It’s okay to temper your expectations for the following days. Magic gave himself a deadline saying he would need two summers to make the team a contender again. Next summer there is a slew of free agents that could be a franchise cornerstone. If anything Kawhi Leonard related doesn’t happen, perhaps the Lakers can get him without having to give up any of their current players to get him in 2019.

There is cap space available and Los Angeles looks like an attractive destination again. Even with all eyes on the front office and what they want to do with the money, the Lakers have a team that can only get better with another year of experience together. With what they have, adding veterans on cheap short-term deals can make the upcoming season another fun one.

The “we have next summer” excuse from the previous front office was tiresome but at least Lakers fans have a better lineup to cheer for than when that was said in 2015 and we had to watch Ryan Kelly play with Jordan Hill and Robert Sacre all at the same time.

There is a foundation set for this team moving forward. To compare it to another franchise, it feels like what the Warriors have been doing. They were able to draft the players that eventually became their core, improved and developed them and were then able to add Kevin Durant.

Hypothetically speaking, if the Lakers just brought the entire group from last year back they would improve. With all of the work they’ve been putting in, it seems like they’re primed to increase their win totals from last year. Kuz, Hart, Lonzo look prepared to build off rookie seasons and show the promise that Laker fans have been looking for. The foundation is set so that if they miss out on free agents, there is a safety net knowing that this group of guys would make for a fun team moving forward.

As much as they are in a win now mode, they’re set for building for the future as well. Compare this to the offseason of 2013. The Lakers had put all their eggs in one basket and when Dwight Howard left and Steve Nash didn’t find the fountain of youth, all they were left with was Xavier Henry, Chris Kaman, Nick Young, and a post Achilles repair Kobe Bryant. They struck out and did not have anything to work with moving forward.

The new regime was brought in to attract stars. To change the perception of the purple and gold to be the premier place to be for free agents. It seems as though they’ve done that but they also have focused on the development of their players. Regardless of what happens, the Lakers have a team that will be fun coming into the next season. There’s room for excitement in every scenario.

It’s going to be a crazy summer and hopefully, the front office can pull off some………..Magic.

(I’m really sorry)

(Editor’s note: Kendrew has been fired.)

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