Lakers No Longer Pursuing Big Three!
The Lakers are abandoning Magic Johnson’s three-superstar plan and embracing a two-superstar plan with a deep versatile roster
Say goodbye to Magic Johnson’s grand plan for a Lakers’ Superstar Big Three. While Lakers Exceptionalism is far from dead, the Lakers are now rethinking their team building strategy and embracing a two-superstar deep-roster plan.
That’s why the Lakers were telling coaching candidates they were focusing on free agency this summer rather than trading their young core for a superstar. Despite the predictions none of the top five free agents will sign with them, the Lakers remain hopeful that a superstar like Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, or Kemba Walker will surprise everybody and sign with the Lakers to join LeBron James as the team’s second superstar.
Should the Lakers succeed in signing one of these five elite free agents, their new strategy will be to keep their young core rather than trying to trade them for a third superstar as former PBO Magic Johnson would likely have done. The Lakers would add their free agent superstar and the player they draft with the #4 pick to a talented roster that includes LeBron James, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart, Moe Wagner, and Isaac Bonga.
If the Lakers can’t convince one of the top five superstar free agents to join LeBron James and sign with them this summer, their plan B will be to trade for a second superstar, with Anthony Davis or Bradley Beal the likely target. They would likely have to give up some of all of their young core in the trade but would still have over $30 million in cap space with which to replenish their roster and replace the young players they had to give up in the trade.
Fortunately, there will be lots of elite role players available as free agents from other teams this summer so the Lakers should have no problem augmenting or replenishing their young players they traded. Candidates include Brook Lopez, Danny Green, Terry Rozier, Pat Beverley, J.J. Redick, and Marcus Morris. They can also re-sign their own free agents like JaVale McGee, Alex Caruso, Reggie Bullock, Jemerrio Jones, and Mike Muscala.
What the Lakers are really saying is their priority this summer is to end up with a second superstar to pair with LeBron James as well as a deep and talented roster of complementary role players to support the two superstars. That’s a major revision of Magic Johnson’s grandiose plan to put together a Superstar Big Three which would have left the Lakers with zero cap space and required them to build a roster filled with minimum salary veterans.
Part of the change in thinking is the realization that a Superstar Big Three without a deep and versatile roster is no longer a viable pathway to winning an NBA championship. While that might have worked twelve years ago for James, Wade, and Bosh and the Miami Heat, changes in the rules and rise of the three-point shot have changed the landscape such that deep and versatile rosters have become more important to winning than a third superstar.
Just look at the depth and talent of the four teams left in this year’s playoffs, all of whom lack a Superstar Big Three but are flush with elite role players. With Kevin Durant injured , the Warriors, Trail Blazers, Raptors, and 76ers are all now pretty much dual-superstar deep-roster teams who are fully able to throw waves of elite three-point shooters at opposing defenses and swarms of aggressive long and switchable defenders at opposing offenses.
That’s the more realistic formula the Los Angeles Lakers have hopefully now embraced in the wake of Magic Johnson’s departure. Instead of looking to sign a second superstar in free agency and then acquire a third by trading their young core, the Lakers are now planning to keep their young core and sign a second superstar in free agency or trade part of their young core for a second superstar and then use their cap space to replenish their roster.
After a summer of questionable decisions and disabling gaffes, hearing the Lakers talk about the importance of developing their young core is the breath of fresh air and intelligent thinking Lakers fans have been pining for all along. While we may cringe at the thought of Kurt and Linda Rambis running the team, it’s gratifying to hear they’re focusing on building a deep and talented team rather than a Superstar Big Three and a bunch of minimum salary vets.
The Basketball Gods rewarding the Lakers with the #4 pick in next month’s NBA Draft could have major impact on the team’s success this offseason. It surely gives the Lakers multiple options to improve the team’s final roster. They could draft a potential elite three-point shooter like Darius Garland or trade the pick to a team like the Atlanta Hawks for their #8 and #10 picks. The #4 pick could even be the missing piece they needed to trade for AD.
What strikes me as significant is, with Magic gone, we’re no longer hearing the Lakers front office prattle on about Lakers Exceptionalism and landing multiple superstars this summer. Instead, we’re hearing more realistic expectations about keeping our young core and building a championship team the right way. For me, that’s a sign we may be on the right track and the front office understands that we need patience and continuity to succeed.
Maybe I’m being too optimistic in interpreting what’s going on but I have to believe that the Lakers realize that putting all their hopes on hitting a grand slam might not be the smartest pathway to choose to right the ship. We may finally be pursuing building a team the right way block by block with singles, doubles, and triples rather than always just swinging away for the fences. Anyway, I’m thrilled with the new strategy and think we’re on the right track.
Bottom line, chasing three superstars was always a questionable strategy that left no room for error and led the Lakers to making roster decisions that cost them valuable players. A two-superstar deep-roster plan makes more sense.
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