After Friday night’s tilt against the Los Angeles Clippers, the Lakers will have only two games between them and quite arguably the most important offseason in franchise history. A lot of Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka’s work to put a competitive team around LeBron James will have to be done in free agency, but options could dwindle quickly.
On today’s “Locked on Lakers,” Pete and I discuss two names who could come up should the Lakers miss out on talents like Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant: Kemba Walker of the Charlotte Hornets and Jimmy Butler of the Philadelphia 76ers.
In both cases, there are positives and negatives to the potential signings. We start by laying out both sides of the argument for Butler, and then do the same with Kemba.
Butler would offer up a big wing who is a plus defender and absolute monster of a competitor. He would be a good second option alongside LeBron, though it would be a bit of a conundrum to get the two to actually play off each other offensively. The downside to Butler would be the miles he’s put on, his relative lack of an outside shot (34% on only three attempts per game from three this season), and the chemistry concerns he’s now had in three different organizations.
Walker is a dynamic ball-handler who would immediately become the team’s only threat to score coming off screens in pick-and-roll sets. He’s a good shooter who could in theory get better playing alongside James, but a lot of those theoretical shooters went the opposite direction this season, so who knows. He would be a bit of a liability on defense and at his size (listed at 6’1” but he’s really 5’11”), it’s fair to wonder how he’ll age.
A larger point about both players is that they aren’t who Lakers fans were promised when Magic was hired. He sent out D’Angelo Russell for the cap space to sign a legitimate super-duper-star and these guys aren’t that. They’re good, don’t get me wrong, but they aren’t game-changers in the way Durant, Leonard or Anthony Davis would be.
The other thing Walker or Butler’s arrival would signal is a need to produce on the margins of team-building, something this front office has utterly failed at, what with the signings of Rajon Rondo, Michael Beasley, Lance Stephenson and JaVale McGee (though McGee has been fine to good this season).
I’d go so far as to argue that if the Walker or Butler are who the Lakers walk away from free agency with, they’d almost have to trade for Davis, though that gets complicated for another variety of reasons.
Long story short, Butler and Walker are good players. Yes, they come with questions marks, but in most free agency periods, they’d be solid-to-good signings. But solid-to-good isn’t what Magic promised upon his arrival, and this front office hasn’t shown a capacity to make those kinds of moves work with additions on the margins.
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