Now that free agency is over, the Los Angeles Lakers have bought out Luol Deng and the team’s roster is mostly set with only one star (LeBron James) on it for the next year — barring a trade — it makes sense that some are looking forward to next summer and a free agency class that will likely include names like Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant. Especially now that Deng’s buyout gives the Lakers nearly the exact amount they need to offer the max to a player of Durant’s experience level.
And while Leonard’s ties to the Lakers have been far more discussed given that he is a Southern California native and demanded a trade to L.A., following the Paul George playbook (so he’ll surely end up signing in Oklahoma City), Durant’s Lakers connections are also starting to come under discussion because, well, it’s August and there is nothing else to do.
This is going to be doubly true now that Deng’s buyout gave the Lakers enough cap space to allow the Lakers to avoid having to ask Durant to take a discount, something SB Nation’s own Tom Ziller noted the brilliance of earlier Sunday.
But even before Deng’s buyout, “Durant or Leonard?” has become a popular hypothetical on Lakers Twitter and the team’s Reddit in these dog days of the offseason, with the latter offering top-five two-way play (if healthy) and also coming with the benefit of (seemingly) being more likely to come.
Durant, though, has proven he’s healthy, his defense has gone up a level (even if he isn’t peak Leonard, which to be fair, Leonard may also not be) and while he’s probably less likely to come than Leonard, Durant would offer the added benefit of subtracting from the team the Lakers are trying to catch (the Golden State Warriors).
I’m not here to argue about which player would be the better addition (both would be phenomenal), but rather to point out that Durant might be even less likely to come than you think.
It seems like the situation with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope last year — in which the Lakers gave a player also repped by LeBron’s agent a gargantuan deal, then kept in contact with him all year and saw LeBron choose to sign in L.A. over the summer — has led to lots of people trying to find the next such outside-the-box, conspiracy theory-type connection that could lead various stars to L.A. (i.e. Jeff Ayres being repped by Leonard’s agent).
Basically, the offseason has turned us all into wannabe detectives, looking to connect dots like a brilliant investigator but more often than not looking like the famous Charlie Day connecting the dots meme from “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.”
Another example of this connection-hunting that’s been seen online lately — again, even before the Deng buyout — is bringing up that Durant used to be repped by now-Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka during his career as a sports agent.
And while it’s definitely worth noting such a connection, it just may not actually help the Lakers, because Durant isn’t one of the clients Pelinka was forced to give up when he transitioned into a GM role. Durant left Pelinka while he was still an agent for Durant’s current agency, Roc Nation.
Now, does that necessarily mean the two don’t like each other? Not at all, and at the very least, it means that Durant and Pelinka at one time had a good relationship, one that Pelinka spoke to in a statement when Durant departed Landmark Sports Agency:
“We are honored and blessed to have worked on behalf of Kevin, for a brief period of time,” Pelinka said. “He is an amazing person and athlete, and we are proud of our work and service towards advancing his brand in a manner that reflects the mutual qualities we share with Kevin. We wish him nothing but success in his future endeavors.”
Now, maybe those future endeavors Pelinka spoke of could include the Lakers. Maybe Durant would be eager to work with Pelinka again. But anytime a relationship like that is terminated, it’s worth paying attention to, because while it is a connection, it’s not necessarily one that favors the Lakers.
Anyway, July of 2019 is still a long way off, and the Lakers will have plenty of other potential free agency targets then, but this seemed worth discussing and acknowledging as long as people are talking about it, and are only going to start doing so more now that it’s a real option on the financial ledger.
Get ready for a wild year, because as exciting as LeBron’s first season in Los Angeles is going to be, it’s just prelude to the most important summer the Lakers have had in years, and one in which every possible edge the Lakers have in free agency is worth investigating. It’s just that based on what we know now, this is only an edge in the double-edged-sword variety, because it could cut either for or against the Lakers chances at Durant, and we’ll have to wait until next July to find out for sure which one it is.
You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.