About a year ago, before free agency started in 2018, the staff here at Silver Screen & Roll entertained the idea of writing a piece cautioning fans not to get their hopes up too high for the offseason. Rumors were abound that Paul George was set to return to Oklahoma City, that LeBron James might not want to come to Los Angeles on his own, and it might be worthwhile to reset expectations as Lakers fans.
Personally, I had no desire to write that. I had just started working at this site, I didn’t want to develop a reputation as a wet blanket, and I really did think that good things were on the horizon for this team.
A year later, it may have been the right idea to reset expectations — given the season the Lakers ended up having — but at the time, it was far more fun to be this guy:
Fast forward to the 2019 offseason, and once again, when it came time to decide what to write for my column this week, I thought about calibrating our outlook for this offseason. None of the best free agents have been definitively linked with the Lakers as their top destination — although a few seem to be considering L.A. — and cap space was a potential issue. Creating a roster with a collection of non-star talent increasingly seemed like a valid team-building strategy, but if the Lakers didn’t emerge from this summer with a super team, that would be an adjustment from when the Anthony Davis trade was originally made.
And then, Thursday morning, the Woj bombs came.
Davis waived his trade kicker, and the Lakers traded the remains of their youth (and most of the rest of their roster) to the Washington Wizards to essentially create maximum cap space, shaking up the entire league landscape in the process.
There’s a current of thought that the front office was acting proactively in anticipation of free agency, rather than waiting and being over a barrel when the team absolutely had to move money, but I’m not sure sure. For one, it’s hard to see how $6 million worth of cap space, and a future second-round pick, could be better spent in this market than by retaining Moe Wagner and Jemerrio Jones. Secondly, it seems to me that this type of deal could be easily executed later on. There isn’t a ton of salary to take on, and the Wizards are getting three lottery tickets in the form of young players, one of whom has already earned the respect of NBA vets.
It’s not even that I don’t believe the Lakers have the foresight to execute such a trade, despite what may be said about the team’s front office. The signing of Jones at the end of the season was literally done with the anticipation of being able to use his contract in a flexible manner moving forward.
But, come on. This is the Lakers. This isn’t a team that operates in stealth. They make big, brash moves for the whole world to see and comment on. The only reason they would make this trade now, before the next league year starts on July 1, is as a show of strength. The Lakers are trying to send a message that they are a force in free agency after the rest of the league had written them off, and they intend to compete for the best players.
The narrative seems to be working. Klay Thompson, who previously was only said to be considering the Clippers if his incumbent team, the Warriors, failed to offer a full max contract, has now reportedly expanded his list to both Los Angeles teams. The Kyrie Irving rumors are back, D’Angelo Russell reunion be damned. And Kawhi Leonard, the prize of this year’s free agent class, “intends to grant” the Lakers a meeting.
We could once again try to couch all these rumors. Thompson is only considering the Lakers if the Warriors cheap out. Irving is all but shopping for real estate in Brooklyn. And who in the world knows what Leonard is doing.
But there’s just no fun in that. As basketball fans, more often than not, our currency is hope, something that has been lacking from this particular franchise for far too many years. Maybe it’s realistic to temper our optimism, but it’s far more enjoyable to just relish this moment. Two weeks ago, the Lakers were fools who seemingly didn’t understand the collective bargaining agreement. Now, they have potentially the strongest recruiting pitch in the NBA — two of the seven best players in the league on a historic, marquee franchise.
It’s been an emotional roller coaster following this team in recent years. Every time it seems like the Lakers are riding high, they turn it into a mess shortly afterwards. They signed LeBron James, and then added Rajon Rondo and Lance Stephenson. They beat the Warriors on Christmas Day, and then lost LeBron for five weeks with the first serious injury of his NBA career. They traded for Anthony Davis, but gave up the heart of the team in the process.
With the number of swings this team goes through, I’m past the point of realism when big news like this comes through. It’s better to just really feel whatever is happening, because the good moments inevitably don’t last forever. At this instant, the Lakers have thrown up a middle finger at the people who didn’t think they knew what they were doing, and they’ve set themselves up for a chance at greatness next week.
It’s a fun place to be. For now, that’s all I really want to think about.