For the last two summers, the Los Angeles Lakers have added superstar players to their roster. In 2018, they signed LeBron James to a four-year, $154 million deal, and in 2019, they landed Anthony Davis in a blockbuster trade with the New Orleans Pelicans.
While Davis, 27, can be the Lakers’ franchise cornerstone for the foreseeable future, James will be 37 when his contract expires, assuming he opts into the final year of his contract. That’s not to say that James won’t still be an elite player in two years, but if he wasn’t, it would be through no fault of his own. After all, Father Time in undefeated.
Fortunately, the Lakers have planned for the future, and in 2021, they look set to have the financial flexibility to add another star player. That summer, Giannis Antetokounmpo will have the opportunity to become an unrestricted free agent.
There’s no reason to believe that the Greek Freak is unhappy in Milwaukee. They’re probably going to finish with the best record in the NBA for the second consecutive season despite the fact that they let Malcolm Brogdon walk in free agency, and Antetokounmpo will likely win his second MVP in as many years. By all accounts, he’s doing just fine.
However, if the Bucks don’t make it to the Finals, Antetokounmpo could explore his options in free agency — and if he does, the Lakers are viewed as a threat. During an appearance on the “Load Management” podcast, Shams Charania of The Athletic reported that teams started monitoring L.A.’s interest in Antetokounmpo last summer (emphasis mine):
“One thing I do know is how important winning is to Giannis. That isn’t just lip service. Everyone around the Bucks understands that we have this window this year, next year, to try to make a run to winning a championship. And if we don’t, Giannis will then look at it under the lens of ‘listen, I gave Milwaukee all these years. Our goal is to win a championship. We had three amazing chances...’ At that point, he’ll really have an opportunity to look at the teams that are going to have interest.
“Now you can look at a bunch of teams. I’m sure the Warriors, Toronto, the Lakers. You know, the Lakers go and claim Kostas Antetokounmpo off of waivers after he’s cut (last summer), I think an antenna went up around the league when that happened... But we’re talking about Giannis. All 29, all 30 teams want him, but I’ll say it again: Winning is very, very important, so I think we’ll have a good understanding of where his mind is at depending on where the Bucks season ends this year or next year.”
The Lakers have tried to make it clear that their interest in Kostas as a prospect is independent of his relationship with the reigning league MVP, but it would be silly to assume they haven’t given it any thought whatsoever.
It’s when the Lakers signed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to a one-year, $18 million deal in 2017. Did they like Caldwell-Pope as a player? Sure, but they were also mindful of the fact that he was represented by Rich Paul, the same agent that represents James. It’s a game of chess, not checkers.
That alone might not be enough to lure Giannis out of a winning situation in Milwaukee, but it’s a start. Add in the fact that the Lakers are right behind the Bucks in the standings, and it’s easy to understand why teams are worried about Los Angeles.
If they’re scared now, just wait until Vogel rolls out a lineup of LeBron, Giannis and AD — no other players, just them. Three on five.