Lakers Need To Focus on Free Agency!
Why adding a second superstar via free agency rather than trade is the Lakers’ best path to build a legitimate championship team
Let’s start by putting to bed the pipe dream of the Lakers building a Superstar Big Three. There’s simply no realistic path by which the Lakers would be able to add two max contract superstars to LeBron James via trade or free agency.
The bottom line is the Lakers don’t have the contracts to match salaries in a trade for a second superstar, which means the only way they consummate such a trade would be to do it while they’re under the cap and can take back more in salaries than they’re sending out. Unfortunately, that would leave them without cap space to sign a third superstar in free agency. And if they sign a max contract free agent first, they wouldn’t be able to match salaries.
Truthfully, the only way teams can build Superstar Big Threes today is by organically growing one or two superstars like the Warriors were able to do with Curry and Thompson and then signing Durant as a third in free agency. Even then, the Warriors needed a pair of fortunate breaks like Curry agreeing to sign an extremely team favorable contract due to concerns about his early injury problems and the new TV deal causing a huge jump in the salary cap.
Frankly, Magic Johnson’s grand plan to create a Superstar Big Three was always flawed from the start. Even if the Lakers had been able to sign Paul George or a second superstar to go with LeBron last summer and then traded for a third superstar midseason, they would not have had enough depth or talent to be beat the Warriors. And once the Lakers failed to sign that second superstar last summer, their young players’ salary increases killed the plan.
That means the Lakers need to realistically forget about building an instant Superstar Big Three and focus on finding the right second superstar to build a team deep and talented enough to legitimately complete for a championship. And if the choice is between signing that second max contract superstar via free agency or trading for one, free agency would seem to be the obvious preference so the team can hopefully grow their own Superstar Big Three.
That’s apparently the path the Lakers have chosen according to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin who reported that the Lakers have made it known to coaching candidates that their plan is mainly centered on making a big splash in free agency rather than counting on a “roster-shaping trade.” That’s good news to hear and an indication that the Lakers have moved on from Magic Johnson’s grand plan to build a Superstar Big Thee and have recalibrated their goals.
Of course, focusing on this summer’s free agency only increases the pressure on the Lakers maligned front office to come through by signing a top tier free agent such as Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, or Kemba Walker this summer. Fortunately, the Lakers will still have good options if they fail to sign a second superstar this summer, including adding multiple elite three-point shooters to short-term deals and saving cap space to sign Anthony Davis next summer.
While striking out with top free agents this summer would send fans ballistic, it wouldn’t be the end of the world as the Lakers could sign elite three-point shooters to one-year deals to save cap space for Anthony Davis next summer. Overpaying to sign Brook Lopez, Danny Green, and Seth Curry to short term deals could make the Lakers a better and more dangerous team than signing a single max contract superstar and Anthony Davis is still the ultimate prize.
I’m also intrigued by the potential of the Lakers’ young core of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, and Josh Hart and would love to see how far they could grow and develop if healthy for the regular season and playoffs. Regardless of what happens this summer, the Lakers should be dramatically improved next season and should have a realistic chance to become a top four team in the West that makes the playoffs and possibly competes for a title.
Bottom line, the Lakers don’t need to hit a home run this summer. What they do need to do is make good contact and hit as many singles, doubles, and triples as possible and chart a steady course towards building a better team.