Lamenting the ones that got away!
Why the Lakers need to rethink their strategy and trade for a second superstar now rather than gambling on free agency
Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler. The list goes on of the superstars whom the Lakers could have traded for had they been in position or willing to pull the trigger rather than putting all their eggs in the free agency basket.
The Lakers may be second guessing themselves if the rumors turn out to be true and many of the top players in next summer’s free agency sweepstakes, including Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, and Klay Thompson, do not want to play Robin to LeBron James’ Batman and ultimately might spurn the Lakers. There’s little question the Lakers would be a better team today if they traded for Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, or Jimmy Butler when they had a chance.
So what happens if those rumors are true? Should the Lakers move on to the next tier of elite free agents, which includes Kemba Walker, Khris Middleton, and DeMarcus Cousins. Or should they kick the can down the road and save cap space for summer of 2019, when Anthony Davis could be a free agent. Frankly, it’s time for the Lakers to rethink their grand plan and consider trading for a second superstar instead of gambling on signing a free agent.
The first time the Lakers will have the opportunity to implement this new strategy would be this midseason, starting on December 15, 2018 when free agents signed the previous summer can be traded and ending with the trade deadline February 7, 2019. That’s when the Lakers should be exploring trade opportunities for an elite two-way player like Bradley Beal from a team like that’s tanking, underperforming, or rebuilding like the Washington Wizards.
Bradley Beal would give the Lakers the second superstar and the proven elite catch-and-shoot scorer they need playing alongside LeBron. He would be an immediate major upgrade over Ingram as the Lakers’ starting shooting guard. He’s currently averaging 23 points, 3.9 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.2 blocks, and 1.0 steals in 34.8 minutes per game compared to Ingram’s 16.1 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.1 blocks, and 1.0 steals in 30.7 minutes per game.
As for the Wizards, they would get a younger and cheaper replacement for Beal and get out of the salary cap hell they’re currently stuck in, freeing up over $20 million of their own cap space to use for free agents next summer. The Wizards would prefer to move John Wall but nobody’s going to take on that max contract and the $40M per year salaries that kick in next season. Nor will there be any takers for Otto Porter, Jr. and his inflated contract.
Unlike waiting and hoping to land a second superstar next summer, trading for Beal would immediately elevate the Lakers as a top four team in the West. Trading for Beal would likely cost the Lakers a package of Brandon Ingram plus expiring contracts for KCP, Beasley, and Stephenson to match salaries. The trade would cost the Lakers cap space to sign a max contract free agent next summer but would leave them $20 million in cap space next summer.
The Lakers could then use that $20 million next summer to sign free agents, including players they signed last summer to 1-year deals like JaVale McGee and Rajon Rondo or elite free agent role players from other teams like Trevor Ariza, Willie Cauley-Stein, Julius Randle, Tyreke Evans, or Nikola Mirotic. Their contracts could then be combined with those of one of two of their young stars to trade for a third superstar to go along with LeBron and Beal.
That third superstar is obviously Anthony Davis at this point in time and the entire point of trading for Beal now and using the $20 million in cap space for tradable contracts is to put together a treasure chest of assets to use to trade for that third superstar rather than wasting time gambling on free agency. The message that seems painfully clear to the Lakers right now is that things are moving so fast that going all in now seems a better strategy than waiting.
The big question is whether Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka would be willing to change their minds and give up the chance to sign KD, Kawhi, or Klay this summer and settle for trading Ingram and half the team’s cap space for Beal, who could very well be the catalyst to transform the Lakers into a legitimate championship contender. Maybe it’s time the Lakers realize that a bird in the hand (Beal) is clearly worth more right now than a bird in the bush (Kawhi).
It’s time for the Lakers to trade for their next superstar this winter rather than gambling on signing KD, Kawhi, or Klay as free agents next summer. Don’t let Bradley Beal become the next Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, or Jimmy Butler.