The worst-kept secret in the NBA — if you can even consider it a “secret” at this point — is that the Los Angeles Lakers are going to do everything they can to land two superstars in free agency come Summer 2018. Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka exchanging communication considered to be a “prohibited expression of interest” with Paul George’s agent left the Lakers’ soaking a $500,000 fine for that cat being let out of the bag a bit too brashly.
That hasn’t deterred the Lakers at all, as Magic Johnson explained to Mike Bresnahan of Spectrum SportsNet that he’s feeling confident as they build toward free agency.
“I feel really good about it. We have cap space for probably two guys, max, but that's not to say we'll use both of them. We want to, if we can, but we have a Plan A, then we have a Plan B. Say we only get one of those guys, then we'll make a decision on not to use the cap space — we can do that — and save it for the next class that's coming the next year,” Magic said.
The Lakers don’t technically have two full max slots yet, and have a huge impending free agency decision with Julius Randle as well. The $18 million Luol Deng is set to make next season continues to sting even as signing day shrinks further in the rearview mirror.
Johnson doesn’t have any plans of serving up the sequel to the summer of MozDeng in Los Angeles, though. Magic has seen the impact of bogging down the books with overpriced signings that don’t move the needle, and it’s perhaps served as a great learning experience for the front office to have inherited out of the gates.
“We're not going to give money away just because we have the cap space, I'm not about that,” Magic said.
All the available money in the max-salary world doesn’t mean anything unless there’s a reason for these players to be compelled to join the Lakers. The Lakers have been pitching their glory days, market and available money for years. It’s gone nowhere.
Magic plans on focusing more on the “championship caliber team” he’s building in Los Angeles.
“It's not the marketing, it's not the branding, it's about basketball and winning, and what I'm building here is a championship caliber team. And if you want to win, and you want guys to help you to win, we've got that.
“We’ve got the best practice facility in all of basketball. Best owners, Jeanie and her brothers and sisters. We feel like we're ready to explode, that's why I'm on everybody to be better,” Johnson said.
All of that means nothing unless there’s a tangible team for a star player to join, and Magic thinks the Lakers will be at that point once the season is over.
“When you break down our team and you say ‘Man, if I put myself in that lineup with that talent, oh, we're not only a playoff team but we're one of the best teams in basketball and one of the top teams in the West.’
All of the preparation since Johnson took over the Lakers front office will be put to the test in just a few months. When the clock strikes midnight Eastern Time, July 1, Magic gets to try his hand at landing a star in Los Angeles.
“I can't wait till 9:01,” Magic concluded.
*All quotes transcribed via Spectrum SportsNet