The Los Angeles Lakers have made it clear as day they plan to keep their cap space open for 2018 with basically every move they make. The team used D’Angelo Russell to offload Timofey Mozgov’s contract to make sure they would have extra space next summer, and general manager Rob Pelinka has called 2018 cap space “sacred” to the team’s plans.
The reason they’re being so prudent is that they (very transparently) hope to add hell-bent on Los Angeles Indiana Pacers All-Star Paul George next summer, along with (reportedly) another max player like LeBron James.
The operative phrase there is “next summer,” because although the Lakers were rumored in endless trade talks involving George in the lead-up to 2017 the NBA Draft, they don’t think they are going to get him in a trade anymore and will just wait for free agency, according to Mark Medina of the Southern California News Group:
To be smart in free agency, the Lakers also have set their eyes on two realities. The Lakers are not expecting to acquire George from the Indiana Pacers amid their insistence on keeping Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram. With their hopes set on George becoming available next summer, the Lakers want to pursue players who fit specific criteria that would accelerate the young roster’s development.
If the Lakers’ only two options are to move Ball or Ingram to get George or wait for him in free agency, then this is a necessary gamble. George is a very, very good player, but not the type of player a team should give up the centerpieces of a rebuild for. Not after dealing one No. 2 pick a week ago, and especially with George seemingly so intent on ending up with the Lakers anyway.
Should the Lakers go the patience route, the plan Medina reports of finding players to complement their young talent is a sound one, and one the team is already kind of executing. Brook Lopez’s floor-spacing skills should help their young core look better, giving Ball, Ingram, Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle more space to attack the basket as well as offering a dependable post-up presence.
If the Lakers add a shooter or two, their roster will look pretty functional, which could either help those young players improve and stay or give them enough value to get flipped in a package for a star to join George.
The possibility exists that the Lakers are happy with that plan, but this could also be a way of pressuring Indiana. If the Pacers believe they aren’t going to get any more for George out of the Lakers than whatever is currently on the table right now, they may finally do a deal and ship George to Los Angeles.
Either way, this is the logical path for the Lakers to take, and a promising sign for their relatively inexperienced front office.
Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here), and you can follow him on Twitter at @hmfaigen.