With 13 games left on their regular season schedule, the Los Angeles Lakers probably aren’t where they wanted to be at the start of the season, unless, of course, they envisioned losing to the New York Knicks on the road in March with LeBron James on their roster.
Luckily, the Lakers aren’t married to this roster — far from it, actually. Going into the offseason, Los Angeles will have just seven players under contract, including James, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart, Moe Wagner and Isaac Bonga. With the exception of James, everyone on the roster will still be playing on their rookie contracts.
It’s for that reason the Lakers are projected to have roughly $39 million to spend on another All-Star free agent like Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Jimmy Butler this summer. Some believe that their lackluster first season with James has hurt their chances of landing a star in free agency, but James himself is confident about where the team is at going into the summer.
Following the Lakers’ loss to the Knicks on Sunday, James was asked what he sees as the Lakers’ free agency pitch, and he told reporters that he feels are the selling points:
“Listen, at the end of the day this franchise wants to win and wants to win big. And one thing about this franchise is they cater to the players. That’s it. Everything else comes secondary. They only want us to go out and perform at a high level and play the game at a high level so that we can be mentioned with some of the great teams that’s in the league at that point in time.
"So like I’ve said there’s a lot of great free agents this summer. I’m not going to name any names, because any time I say something or our organization says something about a specific person we get in trouble. But we have an opportunity to get better, and that’s something that’s definitely great to know, (that) you have an opportunity to get better from a personnel standpoint.”
It’s nice to hear that James has faith in the front office, but can’t several other, better teams offer what the Lakers can offer, if not more?
That player-first culture is the same culture that resulted in Julius Randle asking for his rights to be renounced in free agency and Brook Lopez leaving to Milwaukee for the biannual exception (one-year, $3.4 million). You can also argue that the way they’ve handled their players in the past had a ripple ripple effect on their plans in free agency last summer, specifically with Paul George, an Aaron Mintz client.
The Lakers' relationship with Aaron Mintz of CAA was not a fruitful one - poor mutual experience with D'Angelo Russell, Lakers' prioritized cap room over an extension for Randle, benched him, etc. - George didn't give Lakers a meeting. It's all connected and apparently over— Eric Pincus (@EricPincus) July 2, 2018
And if it’s a high-level of basketball they’re after, the Lakers’ free agent pitch isn’t necessarily much better.
Sure, teaming up with LeBron James is seen as an easy ticket to the NBA Finals, but are the Lakers actually a winning organization, or is history just on their side?
Can the current front office be trusted build a roster that’s capable of dealing with adversity after not doing so the previous summer?
The Indiana Pacers have shown they can, seeing as they’re still a top-five team in the Eastern Conference despite the fact that they lost All-Star Victor Oladipo. The same can be said of the LA Clippers, who traded away their lone All-Star in Tobias Harris in February and are still projected to make the playoffs. The Pacers will have room for one max free agent. The Clippers can create room for two.
Then, you have the teams on the east coast like the up-and-coming Brooklyn Nets and the New York Knicks, who will have a top-three pick to go along with the $74.6 million in spending money they’re expected to have.
Suffice to say, big name free agents will have options, and it’s difficult to make a case for the Lakers right now. Here’s to hoping I’m wrong when July 1 rolls around.