The Los Angeles Lakers have the opportunity to make a big splash in free agency with enough financial flexibility to sign two max-level free agents like Paul George or LeBron James this summer.
However, this isn’t the first time the Lakers have had the necessary cap room to make a big signing. Heading into the summer of 2016, the Lakers had roughly $66 million in cap space to blow on names like Al Horford, Mike Conley, Kevin Durant and LeBron James. For those keeping track, none of those players ended up signing with the Lakers, and that’s because at the time the team had nothing to offer free agents but warm winters and sandy beaches.
This time around, general manager Rob Pelinka is confident the Lakers’ wealth of young talent will be enough to make Los Angeles a marquee free agent destination once again.
“The playoffs this year, I think, have revealed that young players can be difference makers and in fact, as the game gets faster and more athletic, you need that to compete in today’s NBA We feel like our young core is incredibly attractive,” Pelinka said in an interview with ESPN at the NBA draft combine on Thursday. “The other thing we’ve restored is the ethos of the Lakers. It had become a little bit stagnant. Free agents weren’t looking at the Lakers as a free agent destination.
“We felt, to use a metaphor, it became a little bit like Blackberry vs Apple. Blackberry wasn’t innovating, they weren’t changing. As Apple innovated, everyone went on to that platform. We’ve tried to bring innovation and energy back and change that and the feedback from people throughout the league is that they do feel that renewed energy in Laker Land and we’re proud of that. We feel like we have the platform now to hopefully have some of the bigger names to consider us again.”
It’s no secret that the Lakers plan on improving their roster dramatically this summer, and luckily they’re one of the very few teams that can do that without giving up any meaningful assets. But Pelinka admits it wasn’t easy for them to put themselves in the position they’re in now.
“Other GMs say when you have the best of both worlds--you have a great young core and then you have flexibility to build--if you have those two things in combination that’s really attractive and we have that. We made a very difficult trade at the deadline and traded two players we really liked in Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson, but we were able to get a first-round pick, which is essential to team building. The picks have an incredibly high value in the first round. We had lost our pick because of the Steve Nash trade years ago so we got the pick back and then we created two maximum salary slots that gave us great flexibility to look at 2018, to maybe do one in ‘18, one in ‘19 or two in ‘18.
“There’s so many different ways to use that and we’re positioned well because of that.”
We’re still a few months away from when the offseason starts to heat up, but it’s hard not to get a little excited for the months ahead. Sure, the Lakers might not have a surefire superstar on their roster, but for the first time in years they have a product to sell free agents built around basketball and a team culture built by a bunch guys in their early 20s.
Nothing’s guaranteed in free agency, but the Lakers are in the best position they’ve been in some time.