It could be time for the Lakers to rethink their plans and recognize pursuing DeMarcus Cousins and Paul George instead of LeBron James and Paul George could produce more and better opportunities to win NBA championships.
What nobody seems to want to acknowledge is that adding LeBron James and Paul George isn’t going to guarantee the Lakers will be able to compete with or defeat the Rockets or Warriors and win a championship next season. All it will guarantee is the Lakers will find themselves under intense pressure to win now, which means growing and developing their young core will be replaced as the team’s primary strategy by trading for another superstar.
The pressure to win now is something the Lakers need to avoid putting on themselves right now. We’ve seen what it’s done to LeBron’s previous teams, including the Cavs, who will be facing salary cap hell when LeBron leaves. Instead of making decisions for the long term good of the team, the win now focus causes teams to make poor or premature decisions about whom to keep or trade. It robs their young talent of the opportunity to grow and develop.
Frankly, I think the Lakers are taking a huge gamble by pursuing LeBron James as one of their two superstars. It’s not like the Lakers would be a lock to win the NBA championship with LeBron and PG. They would still be big underdogs to both the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors. It’s not inconceivable the Lakers could sign LeBron to a 4-year max deal only to fail to get past the Warriors or win a single NBA championship during the 4 years.
Meanwhile, the Lakers might have traded away many of the valuable young stars and draft picks they collected to bring in more experienced veteran stars who could help the team win now and could suddenly find themselves stuck in the middle again, bereft of the young talent they once boasted and capped out with the salaries of the veteran stars they added in an effort to win now. That’s an expensive gamble the Lakers just don’t need to make right now.
While LeBron is the best player on the planet, he’s just not the right fit for what the Lakers need right now. The Lakers front office has done a masterful job putting together this roster but they still have a long way to go before this roster is ready for two superstars to transform it into a championship team. Changing gears to a win now mode to accommodate a superstar whose championship window doesn’t match is just not the smart move right now.
What the Lakers need to do instead is pursue DeMarcus Cousins and Paul George, which would free up enough cap space to re-sign Julius Randle. Following that path would allow the Lakers to continue to grow and develop their young core without undue pressure that could hinder their progress. Adding Cousins and George should immediately make the Lakers a playoff team in the West, which is a necessary first step towards winning rings.
While there’s a risk Boogie might not be the player he was before the injury, the chances are good that he’ll still be one of the most dominant centers in the league. NBA players suffering an Achilles injury today lose only around 9% of their athleticism. Boogie should have a better chance to recover fully since his game was never dependent on pure athleticism. In fact, the Lakers should have a good opportunity to sign DeMarcus to less than a max deal.
Signing Boogie for $25 million instead of LeBron for $35 million per year would enable the Lakers to build a championship caliber bench. They would be able to keep Julius Randle, Josh Hart, and Thomas Bryant. They could waive and stretch Luol Deng, allowing them to keep the two first round picks they would have had to use to move his contract. Bottom line, signing Boogie instead of LeBron would allow the Lakers to build a more competitive team.
Finally, signing DeMarcus Cousins instead of LeBron James could give the Lakers a better matchup against the Warriors, whose weakest position is at center. Boogie would be a nightmare for the Dubs. Smart teams always look for ways to get an advantage over the teams that are in their way. Other than stealing away Klay in free agency, I can’t think of a move the Lakers could make that would help them beat the Warriors as much as adding Boogie.
A Lakers’ starting lineup of Lonzo Ball, Paul George, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, and DeMarcus Cousins with a bench boasting stellar young players like Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart could be a top four playoff team in the West. Hopefully, the Lakers can upgrade their bench by stealing promising center Mitchell Robinson with the #25 pick in next week’s draft and convincing Isaiah Thomas of Rajon Rondo to accept their $4.5 million room exception.
While I expect the Lakers to waive and stretch Luol Deng, it’s still possible they may be able to find a team willing to absorb the last two years of Deng’s bad contract. Trading Deng would likely cost the Lakers at least their 2019 and 2021 first round draft picks or maybe a 2023 unprotected first rounder. Trading Deng would give the Lakers another $10 million in cap space to add another impact player like Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart, or Trevor Ariza.
Pursuing DeMarcus Cousins and Paul George instead of LeBron James and Paul George would give the Lakers more and better opportunities to win NBA championships and giving their young core critical time to grow and develop. Best of all, the Lakers would be under no artificial pressure to take short cuts to win now. Instead, they could continue to build chemistry and continuity, allowing their budding young stars to grow and develop into superstars.
While LeBron may be the best player, it’s time for the Lakers to Boogie!