Even amid speculation that the Los Angeles Lakers might not make the playoffs next season, one factor has gone relatively unchallenged: That this isn’t definitively the team that will finish the season if the first part of it winds up a disappointment.
Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report put together a very informative piece Thursday afternoon and this nugget from a Lakers executive in particular was pretty interesting:
“The roster we have in October may not be the same come February,” the executive continued. “But we like what we have.”
It’s easy to like a roster with LeBron James on it, but that’s kind of besides the point.
Magic Johnson, Rob Pelinka and the rest of the front office are kind of gambling on the roster’s youth. Basically, if Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and the rest of the kids reach their potential, this team has a much higher ceiling than if they had traded sent all their assets out in a Kawhi Leonard deal.
If Leonard signs next summer to join LeBron, potentially another free agent signee and a young core that’s taken another step forward, that team immediately has the potential to legitimately challenge anyone in the league — including the Golden State Warriors.
That’s the entire point here, not merely to contend in the immediate future as any team with both LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard on it would, but also to be able to sustain that success by not over-committing before they absolutely have to.
Given the stage of James’ career, the Lakers might not necessarily have time on their side in the traditional sense. But he did commit to at least three years in L.A., thus giving them the flexibility to not only surround him with talent while he’s a Laker, but also set the organization up for after he departs, be that via retirement or other means.
What the Lakers don’t want is what happened to the organization after Kobe Bryant’s career, where they wound up completely devoid of assets and had to rebuild from the bottom up for over half a decade.
For now, the front office likes what they see. While they remain on the same page with LeBron, they can take their time (within reason) to set him up to contend and also set themselves up for a future beyond his Lakers tenure.
If things don’t look right early on, that plan can change, and they’ll have the assets to make it work. Until that time comes, though, they seem perfectly content to enjoy the work they’ve done thus far.