One day, a documentary about just this past NBA offseason will be made, with all the fun details to inform us about everything that went on behind the scenes this summer, but until then, we’re stuck with waiting for said tidbits to come out in a somewhat steady trickle.
As things stand, the basic reading of this summer was that Kawhi Leonard kept the Los Angeles Lakers, Toronto Raptors and Los Angeles Clippers in a holding pattern until the Clippers were able to trade for Paul George and the rest was history. Once Leonard made his decision, the Lakers and Raptors were left scrambling to save their offseasons — though L.A. had quite a bit more work to do given how few players they had signed at that time.
As a result of the Lakers’ waiting things out, they obviously missed on the opportunity to grab the summer’s other high-end free agents, including a player they once drafted, according to Anthony Slater of The Athletic (h/t: Lakers Outsiders):
Russell only wanted serious bidders and, sources say, he had three: The Lakers — wouldn’t that have been quite the reunion? — nearing a potential $100 million offer but in limbo until Kawhi Leonard made his choice, the Wolves, up over $100 million but still needing to create cap room to get to his max, and the Warriors, offering the full max in a complicated sign-and-trade involving Durant.
Without getting too far into the weeds, signing Russell to a deal at roughly $25M per year would have cost the Lakers Danny Green. There are obviously other details to suss out, but for the sake of this exercise, basically everything else could’ve remained the same on this team.
It’s an interesting exercise. Green hasn’t exactly been the sharpshooter the Lakers hoped he would be, but he’s been solid on defense. At Russell’s position, Avery Bradley, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Alex Caruso and Rajon Rondo have been mostly fine if not outright good collectively on offense, and are objectively better as a group than Russell would’ve been on defense, where the Lakers made their name early on this season.
Basically, Russell makes the Lakers a very different team. They might be a lot more explosive offensively, but would probably suffer quite a bit defensively.
There’s also the impact on chemistry that swapping out Green for Russell would’ve had. Yes, this is intangible and maybe Russell just mixes right in, but the veterans on this team have all been very clearly on the same page. Losing Green would probably greatly affect that.
As with any of these stories, though, the Lakers are in a pretty great place as things stand. Yes, it’s fun to run through hypotheticals based on the various ways the offseason could’ve turned out, but the Lakers still hold a share of the best record in the NBA. Everything else is just noise.
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