In most cases, upon a team acquiring LeBron James, the idea of building through development tends to go out the window for more predictable production coming from veterans of his choosing. As of right now, though, James, Magic Johnson, Rob Pelinka and the rest of the Lakers front office are showing patience, even with Kawhi Leonard on the trade block.
Now, Leonard is a Toronto Raptor and the Lakers are left playing the waiting game —something they seem altogether okay with.
First, Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report offered up this nugget on Twitter Tuesday afternoon:
From conversations I've had with people in and around the team, Lakers really eager to see what they have with LeBron and their kids - and are looking forward to adding one of the many stars available in 2019 FA (including Kawhi or Jimmy or KD or Klay or Kemba or Kyrie, etc.) https://t.co/PIyZYyZQae— Eric Pincus (@EricPincus) July 17, 2018
Then, Ric Bucher — also of Bleacher Report — updated how the Lakers feel now that Kawhi is in Canada.
Lakers weren't interested in acquiring him now. They're confident they'll get him for free next summer. https://t.co/LJEGEHh9tg— Ric Bucher (@RicBucher) July 18, 2018
Your friendly reminder that the Spurs were trying to get decent value for a superstar who reportedly wasn’t willing to walk back into the team facility, is coming off an ambiguous injury that held him out of the vast majority of last season and seems to have threatened not to re-sign in non-Los-Angeles cities on the final year of his contract — a stance that reportedly hasn’t changed even after having been traded.
San Antonio’s only real play was to hope that Team USA camp allowed Gregg Popovich to talk to Kawhi and convince him to stay. Once DeMar DeRozan became available, they must have thought continuing to lose their leverage was no longer a viable option. It’s the Spurs, so they’ll get the benefit of the doubt, but sending out Kawhi Leonard and potentially not even getting a first-rounder in return is an objectively bad trade. But hey, do you, Spurs.
From the Lakers’ perspective, until they caught wind of the Boston Celtics including any of their top assets or the Philadelphia 76ers getting more seriously involved, they were right to continue to slow-play their hand, too. There was no need to include Brandon Ingram in any kind of trade (whom the Spurs reportedly preferred) while Jaylen Brown or Markelle Fultz remained off the table.
If the Lakers are as confident as they seemed throughout this entire process that they can land Kawhi (or another big-name free agent) next summer, they may as well hold onto their assets. Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart and the rest of the young core showed a ton of growth last season, and playing with James can hasten that development.
The last point worth making here is how well the younger Lakers fit with LeBron.
Lonzo Ball (especially if his shot comes around) is almost the perfect point guard you’d want to have playing alongside James.
LeBron has also never played with someone as versatile as Ingram, while Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart offer the shooting that you need when LeBron is on the court.
Hell, even Svi Mykhailiuk and Moe Wagner make sense with LeBron in the lineup.
Either the kids will show enough growth to make the Lakers a legitimate title contender in the next few years or they can be used to acquire more immediate help to pair with James and whoever their cap space next year is used on. Had they offered up their entire stash of assets the way the Spurs reportedly demanded, they would put a cap on the team’s potential ceiling.
Yes, there’s a risk they strike out in free agency, but overpaying for Kawhi was a gamble in and of itself, too.
Some will point to how this line of thinking led to the Lakers missing out on Paul George. That’s somewhat fair, but I could just as easily point to the New York Knicks overpaying for Carmelo Anthony and what that led to over the course of his time out there or how sending out assets for Dwight Howard helped launch the lengthy rebuild the Lakers are just now coming out of.
The overall point here is that the Lakers were right to slow-play this both from a leverage standpoint and also from a basketball perspective. These things can always change, but for right now, allowing the Spurs to wriggle on the line was the correct call, even if they don't have Leonard yet.