The Lakers will always find themselves in the conversation during the offseason. The nature of playing in a big market is that every player wants to join. And why wouldn’t they? Whether it’s New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles the opportunities to expand a player’s brand are endless. Anthony Davis became an ambassador to Ruffles following his arrival to Los Angeles. This summer was no different. Even before the season was over there were rumors swirling about Kyrie Irving coming to the Lakers. The Kawhi Leonard saga made everyone lose their minds only for him to join their crosstown rivals.
It is unheard of.
A superstar chose the Clippers over the Lakers. A top player actively made the decision to go to the CLIPPERS.
In fact, that sounds crazy.
Leonard’s thought process is an enigma to the general public, but he is one in a long run of free agents that the Lakers have struck out on. Most of the moves that have led to the Lakers bringing in star players have been through trades. Pau Gasol and Anthony Davis, two of the biggest stars that came to the Lakers were acquired in that way.
Ron Artest might be the biggest free-agent signing during the late 2000’s and he was essentially swapped with Trevor Ariza.
I’ll be starting from the last season that the Lakers made the playoffs, the 2013 season.
Top Free Agents:
- Dwight Howard: Of course, was a Laker during the season but decided to head to the Rockets.
- Chris Paul: Stayed with the Los Angeles Clippers, re-upping for 5 years.
- Andre Iguodala: Golden State Warriors, for 4 years.
- Andrew Bynum: Glendale Jewel City Bowl, City Bowling league.
Free Agent Additions:
- Nick Young
- Chris Kaman
- Xavier Henry
- Jordan Farmar
This year was met with somewhat fake optimism. This team started 10-9! They were pretty fun but that 10-9 start was a fluke as the team ended up finishing with 27 wins. The Lakers gave Kobe Bryant his 2 years, 48 million dollar extension before he even returned to injury, which made things tricky for them cap-wise moving forward. Still, the most impactful free agent to join the team was Nick Young. Who could forget when he outscored LeBron on Christmas Day?
Top Free Agents
- LeBron James: Went back to Cleveland.
- Chris Bosh: Stayed with the Heat.
- Carmelo Anthony: Stayed Me7o
- Eric Bledsoe: Re-signed with Phoenix (3 years removed from the greatest subtweet of all time.)
- Dirk Nowitzki: Took a pay cut to help Dallas build a contender (they did not).
Free Agent Additions
- Ed Davis
- Ronnie Price (I am sad now)
- Carlos Boozer
The Lakers essentially punted the 2013-2014 season, with their eyes set on this summer. They had high expectations: LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony. They flew out Mitch Kupchak to talk to Rich Paul. Anthony was supposedly in play for the Lakers. They struck out on both as well as other free agents who could have contributed. Isaiah Thomas pre-Celtics was available. This was the summer that Kent Bazemore walked while the Lakers waited out on star players. It was the first year of the Byron Experience and having better players could have made the year a bit more tolerable to watch. On the positive side, we did get a look at the first-ever Asian American starting backcourt in Jeremy Lin (acquired in a trade) and Jordan Clarkson. An unfortunate aspect of this season: the Lakers finished with 21 wins.
Top Free Agents:
- Kawhi Leonard: Ah Ha Haa he re-signed with San Antonio
- LaMarcus Aldridge: Stayed the hell away from Adam Levine
- Kevin Love: Stayed in Cleveland, made Droppin Dimes commercial (priceless)
- Jimmy Butler: Re-signed with Bulls
- Marc Gasol: Re-signed with Memphis
- Draymond Green: Re-signed with Golden State Warriors, would then lead the league in genitals attacked the next playoffs.
Free Agent Additions
- Lou Williams
- Brandon Bass
- Roy Hibbert (opted-in and traded)
I’ll always remember this fondly for the introduction of D’Angelo Russell into my life. This year could be considered a success in terms of free agency! Lou Williams was coming off of a 6th man of the year campaign. Roy Hibbert was two seasons removed from being one of the better defensive centers. I thought this was a good offseason in bringing in free agents. This was Kobe’s last year and as you can remember, they ended with 17 wins. There are moments from this season that were a ton of fun. Lou Williams had 44 against the Thunder. The Lakers won one of the nine games the Warriors team (that subsequently blew a 3-1 lead in the NBA finals) lost that regular season. The 17 game win total is the lowest in Lakers history. Kobe would go on to retire. Byron Scott was rightfully fired. Things could only go up from here.
- Kevin Durant: Would sign with Golden State, and expose his own burner accounts.
- LeBron James: Stayed with Cleveland.
- Mike Conley: *laughs in money* re-upping with Memphis
- Al Horford: Would go on to join the Celtics.
Free Agent Additions
- Timofey Mozgov
- Luol Deng
- Jordan Clarkson (re-signed)
- Jose Calderon
- Luke Walton
Things did not go up from there! Mitch Kupchak who is famously known for not tampering made a call at 12:01 A.M. when free agency started. It was to Timofey Mozgov. 4 years, $64 million. This was inexcusable. One can call it stupid. The Lakers would also bring in Luol Deng for 4 years, $72 million. The chances of the Lakers bringing in Kevin Durant or LeBron James were slim, sure. There were options out there that the money could have gone to. This was the crazy offseason where Joakim Noah also got 4/$72 million, but there were players that could have been brought in. Hindsight is 20/20, but contributing players could have been Josh Richardson, Jamal Crawford or Robert Covington. This team would go on to win 26 games.
Top Free Agents
- Stephen Curry: Re-signed with Golden State Warriors. Would go on to win no finals MVP.
- Kevin Durant: Took a pay cut and stayed with the Warriors to preserve Stephen Curry’s legacy
- Gordon Hayward: Would go to Boston, where his political beliefs wouldn’t be chastised.
- Blake Griffin: Agreed to sign with the Clippers with no intention of getting shipped to Detroit.
Free Agent Additions
- Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
- Tyler Ennis
- Andrew Bogut
- Alex Caruso
D’Angelo Russell would be sacrificed for cap space. This was also the season where Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka took over for the former regime. This summer was largely part of a rebuild through the draft. Lonzo Ball was seen as the new player to usher in “Showtime 2.0”. Brook Lopez was brought in for outside shooting. Kentavious Kaldwell-Pope had konnections and kamaraderie to a certain Klutch klient. KCP did his job in helping to bring in the biggest free agent to the Lakers based on association alone despite being in jail for a portion of the season. This team was extremely fun to watch and ended with 35 wins. It also gave Laker fans an introduction to their true lord and savior, Alex Caruso.
2018 and beyond (and some tidbits from the past I guess)
2018 brought the Lakers their biggest free agent since 1996 in LeBron James. There was much speculation as to why LeBron wanted to join the Lakers. The young core, the opportunities in a bigger market, or a chance to live in his vacation home the whole year. We do not really know LeBron’s intentions, but the Lakers were able to get a free agent. The Lakers front office did fumble the 2018 offseason away, leading to 37 wins on the year.
We know the story of the 2019 off-season. Kawhi was the prize. The Clippers went on to win the Kawhi Leonard sweepstakes and the Lakers ended up bringing in their contingency plan. They missed out on Klay, Kyrie, Kemba Walker, and D’Angelo Russell in the process.
Since 1996, the Lakers have brought in 2 marquee free agents. Shaquille O’Neal and LeBron James. Since then, other stars have been brought in via trade. The Lakers have not had success in free agency.
There is a myriad of factors that go into it. The team construct was a big issue: how reliable was an older Kobe post-injury? The turmoil in the front office was a big question as well. Jim and Mitch turned into Magic and Pelinka, and within two years of that, Magic Johnson left stating “betrayal”. The cap space situation is always something that needs to be worked out as well.
There are years where the Lakers essentially punt free agency in hopes for a better class in the future (look at 2020 vs. 2021 for example).
The Lakers will always be in the offseason conversation. They are a big market team in one of the biggest cities in the world.
Generating buzz around the purple and gold has always been good for sports outlets, the same way it is for the Dallas Cowboys. Speaking about them gets them clicks and views.
How free agency unravels for the Lakers has usually not been in their favor.
Magic Johnson spoke about how the Lakers would bring in a free agent to help the team after the 2018 draft. They would keep the young core and bring in another star for the team to compete. Eventually, the Lakers brought in their second star but at the cost of their young players.
Still, I think it is interesting how the perception of the Lakers is as the year goes on. “Free Agent X wants to play in the purple and gold”. The season finishes and the Lakers are always in the running for free agents just to see them go elsewhere.
I get that “they’re the Lakers” will always be a factor. I just think that at this point, we’re only lying to ourselves by stating that they’re a destination.