Do Lakers Really Need Two Superstars?
Why Magic Johnson isn’t going to abandon his grand plan to pursue two max-contract free agents this summer
While nothing is engraved in stone, Magic Johnson remains committed to a grand plan to move Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, and Larry Nance, Jr. to clear cap space to sign two max-contract superstar free agents this summer.
With the young Lakers currently playing their best basketball of the year and enjoying a 4-game win streak, hopes are high that the Lakers might decide signing just one max-contract superstar and keeping their young talent like Randle, Clarkson, and Nance, Jr. could be a smarter move in the long term. While it’s not impossible the Lakers could find themselves in that situation this summer, truth is there are reasons why the Lakers need two superstars.
Topping the list is Magic Johnson’s realization that it would be very hard for the Lakers to convince just one max-contract superstar to sign as a free agent. Elite free agents want to win and play for a team capable of contending for an NBA championship and, frankly, the talented young Lakers aren’t there yet. But pitching two max-contract superstars to join the Lakers’ promising young core of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Kyle Kuzma changes the dynamics.
Add two of LeBron James, Paul George, or DeMarcus Cousins to the Lakers and suddenly you have a team that could potentially compete against the Warriors, Cavs, and Rockets for an NBA championship. It’s even possible the Lakers could trade one of their young stars, Brandon Ingram for example, in a deal to sign a third superstar. How would you like a Lakers’ starting lineup of Lonzo Ball, Paul George, LeBron James, Kyle Kuzma, and DeMarcus Cousins?
Next on the list is Magic’s desire to take advantage of the Lakers’ positioning for this summer’s free agency, which potentially could include superstars like LeBron James, Paul George, and DeMarcus Cousins. Right now, the Lakers are projected to be one of only five teams with sufficient cap space to sign a max-contract free agent. Importantly, they’re also the only team reasonably able to clear the cap space to sign two max-contract free agents this summer.
Elite free agents always say they want to win but when it comes down to it, very few are willing to sign for less than market value. It would be one thing if the Lakers’ competition to sign max-contract free agents this summer were true championship contenders like the Warriors, Cavs, Rockets, or Spurs. Fortunately for the Lakers, the other teams projected to have cap space to sign a max-contract free agent are the Hawks, Bulls, Mavericks, and Pacers.
Finally, winning NBA championships is about superstars and superteams and it’s clear at this point Randle, Clarkson, and Nance won’t be superstars. It’s also clear today’s superstars are a different breed than the Kobe’s or Michael’s of the past who wanted to be the man on their own teams. Today’s superstars want to play with friends and become part of superteams. The Lakers have positioned themselves as the ideal landing spot for two superstars to pair up.
We still have a long way to go before this summer and the landscape can certainly change dramatically. The Pelicans or Thunder could stumble the next month and complicate the situation by putting Cousins or George on the trade block, in which case the Lakers may decide to lock up one of their free agent targets by trading Randle, Clarkson, or Nance, Jr. That would make them a more attractive landing spot for a second superstar this summer.
So while it’s heartbreaking to think of losing promising young players like Randle, Clarkson, and Nance, Jr., who we’ve come to love and admire as we’ve watched them grow, we have to remember that this is a business and players are assets in a game where the goal is to win. Fate may intervene and the Lakers may end up keeping them but odds are they’ll be wearing different uniforms come 2018 because Magic the Lakers really need two superstars.
Lakers fans naturally wary of enduring another free agency disappointment need to trust Magic Johnson and the Lakers new front office. In the end, they understand exactly what the Lakers need to return the franchise to glory.