Here are what are ostensibly the league’s two best teams as close to fully healthy as any teams ever are in June, and the Warriors are just blowing the doors off of the Cavaliers, who themselves only took one loss on their route through the Eastern Conference playoffs.
It’s possible the Warriors could be broken up this summer, with Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry both entering free agency, but it’s highly unlikely. They could lose some of their depth, but the other teams in the Golden State — and the rest of the NBA — appear set to remain the property of the Warriors for the next several years.
Despite entering the summer with tons of young talent, the second overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, and cap space to boot, the Lakers certainly don’t look set to challenge the Warriors any time soon, a reality head coach Luke Walton acknowledged on the latest episode of Howard Beck of Bleacher Report’s podcast “The Full 48”:
"I joke a lot. I said ‘if there's a time to be rebuilding, this is the time to do it.’ The Warriors don't look like they're going anywhere for a while. They're pretty darn good right now,” Walton said, saying he gets a certain level of satisfaction from helping the Lakers grow more naturally towards a title.
"For me and my coaching staff down here, our mindset is to train and act and develop these young players as if these are the only players we're going to have and we're not going to make any trades, because that's the scenario that’s the reality right now. Everything else is hypothetical,” Walton said.
“The mindset we have is this is our group, these are the guys we have the get great to become contenders,” Walton continued. “If the front office makes a move or whatever, then the gameplan changes a little bit. But for right now, the most important thing is developing a foundation, developing that culture for these young players to grow to their highest potential.”
The Lakers are going to be rumored in plenty of “hypotheticals” centered on potential trades for Indiana Pacers star Paul George this summer. There will probably be other players they’ll be rumored to be trading for in the future too, because the Lakers and trade rumors go together like peanut butter and jelly.
Despite all of that noise surely to come, Walton doesn’t think the Lakers should be rushing out to send out D’Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram, the No. 2 pick or any of the rest of their young talent for one star, at least in part because of the dominance of the Warriors:
“Obviously there's players in this league that if you can get, it's really tough to say no to because the superstars in this league are good enough to make you a contender or not. It's the difference between having a very good team with lots of role players or having a team that can actually, legitimately win an NBA championship.”
“My only caution would be let's not give up too much of our young core for one superstar because, like we just talked about before, let’s not forget that those Golden State Warriors are just a little bit north of us and it's going to take a lot more than one superstar to dethrone them from the West. There's that fine line in trying to get there quicker rather than developing our own guys. I think Rob and Magic are very aware of that. They're constantly looking at the best way to get us to be a true contender, not just on paper."
For context, the Lakers were one of the worst teams in the league this season. Even with the addition of George, would they likely be better than the Pacers were this season? Probably not.
Why does that matter? Well, the Pacers lost to the same Cavaliers the Warriors are currently dominating in the first round of the playoffs in a (competitive) sweep. The Lakers and Walton are aiming higher than that.
Walton and the front office have consistently preached patience with their rebuild, which is probably a smart call. Short of the fantastical, there is no one move that would get the Lakers onto the Warriors level any time soon. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t sign George in free agency, it just means they probably shouldn’t give up assets for him before then, even at the risk of losing him.
Instead, if the Lakers time things right, it’s possible they could sign George while they develop the young talent they have into a juggernaut of their own right as Golden State begins to decline. Doesn’t that sound a whole lot more fun?