Kawhi, Kyrie, Or Anthony Davis?
Which superstar offers the best free agency path for the Los Angeles Lakers to build a sustainable championship dynasty
The Los Angeles Lakers are at a critical crossroads confronting a monumental decision that will determine the future direction and success of the franchise at a point in time where their dysfunctional front office is swirling in chaos.
The resignation of Magic Johnson as president of basketball operations has created both precarious uncertainty as well as incredible opportunity for the Lakers as they only enough have cap space to sign one of these superstars. That means they’ll have to choose between Kawhi Leonard and Kyrie Irving, who’ll become free agents this summer, or Anthony Davis, who’s probably the best superstar of the three but won’t become a free agent until next summer.
The heavy pressure to win now and avoid wasting any of the three years remaining on LeBron James’ contract probably means the Lakers’ top priority will be to sign Kawhi Leonard or Kyrie Irving this summer and only pursue Anthony Davis in free agency next summer if they can’t sign one of the two. Should the Lakers have the option, choosing between Kawhi and Kyrie would be a difficult decision because both players would be great fits with LeBron.
Since Kawhi and Kyrie are both 27-years old, age would not be a factor. Position and how each would impact the Lakers offensively and defensively, however, would likely be the major factors determining whom to choose. Kawhi Leonard’s natural position is small forward, same as LeBron James. Kyrie Irving’s natural position is point guard, same as Lonzo Ball. Both are clutch offensive superstars but Kawhi is also an All-NBA defensive player.
For me, it comes down to the Lakers choosing between Kawhi’s superior defense and Kyrie’s proven fit playing with LeBron James. The two are so close that it’s likely going to come down to whoever commits to Lakers first. My guess is Kawhi already knows where he wants to go which he’ll likely announce on the first day of free agency. If he chooses the Lakers, that’s it. Kyrie is more likely to take more time deciding which team to sign with.
The Lakers face a tougher decision if they strike out with both Kawhi and Kyrie. Do they kick the can down the road, overpay multiple elite three-point shooters, and save their cap space to sign Anthony Davis next summer? Or do they pursue second tier free agents like Kemba Walker or Jimmy Butler? Their decision will likely hinge on how sure they are that Anthony Davis will sign next summer and how interested Walker or Butler are to sign with them.
Frankly, the Lakers might be smarter to wait to sign Anthony Davis next summer if they strike out with Kawhi and Kyrie. Davis would not only be the grand prize but the Lakers might actually be a better and more dangerous team signing multiple elite three-point shooters like Brook Lopez, Danny Green, and Seth Curry to two-year deals with team option for the second year than signing Kemba Walker or Jimmy Butler to a long term max contract.
The challenge for the Lakers now that Magic Johnson’s resigned is who’s going to be the front office executive to make these tough decisions and make the pitch to convince one of these superstars to sign? Will it be the general manager Rob Pelinka? Or will it be LeBron James or a newly hired president of basketball operations like Bob Myers? The Lakers can’t go into free agency this summer without a clear plan and the right people to fully execute it.
The good news is the Lakers appear to have made a decision to focus on building a team through free agency rather than through a blockbuster trade. I suspect they’ll still try to put together a trade for Anthony Davis, especially if they don’t sign Kawhi or Kyrie but I think they realize that it’s going to take more than just two superstars to become a legitimate championship team. That could be a more important decision than who’s going to run the team.
The Lakers still have some big decisions to make to stabilize the front office, put together a great coaching staff, build a talented and deep roster, create a sustainable vision for the future, and get everyone working on the same page. It’s going to take some time and patience to get it all right but they have a bevy of wonderful resources and a world of good opportunities they can take advantage of to catapult the Lakers back to the top of the basketball world.
Kawhi, Kyrie, or Anthony Davis? Truthfully each of them offers a free agency path for the Los Angeles Lakers to build a sustainable championship dynasty.