Paul George is ALL the Lakers need!
Why the Lakers should sign free agent Paul George and use the rest of their cap space to keep their own free agents
While the grand plan this summer was to sign both LeBron James and Paul George, the Lakers might ultimately be better off just signing Paul George and using the rest of their cap space to keep most of their own free agents.
Adding two superstars to an exciting young team that’s been playing like a top four team in the West since early January seems like an easy slam dunk until you realize the Lakers would have to renounce all their own free agents, including Julius Randle, Isaiah Thomas, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Brook Lopez, all of whom have been playing extremely well and been a huge part of the Lakers’ impressive rise and resurgence over the last two months.
Signing LeBron and Paul George would leave the Lakers with little wiggle room under the cap and no Bird rights to go over to sign any of their own free agents. If they want to keep Julius Randle, whom they renounced to clear the cap space to sign two superstars, they would need to trade Luol Deng’s bad contract, which could cost the Lakers as much as a pair of first round picks or a first round pick plus an elite young prospect like Kyle Kuzma or Josh Hart.
Unfortunately, trading Deng alone won’t guarantee the Lakers could sign Julius Randle as $18 million would be the max cap space from the trade. Since Julius would then be an unrestricted free agent, a team like the Mavs could offer more and the Lakers could end up losing Randle for nothing. In that case, signing LeBron and PG in free agency this summer could end up costing the Lakers Julius Randle, Isaiah Thomas, KCP, and Brook Lopez.
Signing just one superstar would enable the Lakers to keep most of their own free agents. For example, if the Lakers only signed PG, they could free up cap space to sign KCP to a 3-year deal starting at $18 million and use Bird rights to sign Randle to a 4-year deal starting at $18 million and IT to a 3-year deal starting at $16 million. Best of all, the Lakers would be able to use Bird rights to go over the cap to beat offers made to Randle or IT by other NBA teams.
The Lakers could use the same strategy to sign LeBron instead of Paul George while keeping Julius Randle and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope via Bird rights. They would have to use Bird rights rather than cap space to sign KCP in this scenario because LeBron’s salary is $5 million more than PG’s and KCP’s cap hold $10 million more than IT’s. They wouldn’t be able to keep Thomas but would be able to keep KCP, both of which would likely be fine with LeBron.
By signing one superstar versus two, the Lakers would not have to renounce all their free agents and thus would be able to use Bird rights to go over the cap to sign any free agents they didn’t renounce. If they just sign Paul George, they would be able to keep Julius Randle, Isaiah Thomas, and KCP. If they just sign LeBron James, they would be able to keep Julius Randle and KCP. Bottom line, signing one superstar instead of two may be better for Lakers.
If the Lakers sign just one superstar, should it be Paul George or LeBron James? While LeBron is unquestionably the best player in the world right now, the Lakers’ decision is not as simple as who is the best player. It’s more about who is the best fit to play with the Lakers’ talented young core and in Luke Walton’s exciting up tempo run-and-gun style of basketball. Ultimately, it’s about which player would help the Lakers win the most championships.
For a multitude of reasons, the obvious answer is Paul George, who is 6 years younger than LeBron James and a better fit for the Lakers’ young roster and the modern pace-and-space style coach Luke Walton has the Lakers playing. While LeBron is still the best player in the league and posting historic stats, the Lakers need to remember the LeBron they would get would be 34 next season and will have logged 1,500 NBA regular season and playoff games.
Paul George, on the other hand, is six years younger, would likely have a longer Lakers’ career, and would cost $5 million less per year than LeBron. PG’s great length and hands make him a much better defender than LeBron, who no longer plays tough defense other than occasional chase down blocks. PG’s lower usage rate (25% vs. LeBron’s 31%) and superior 3-point shooting (41% vs. LeBron’s 37%) make him a better offensive fit than LeBron James.
The disparity in championship windows between a 34-year old LeBron and the 20-something Lakers roster is another major concern. LeBron is going to want to compete for a championship right now and as talented as this young Lakers team is, they’re still just too young and inexperienced to compete with teams like the Warriors and Rockets. Signing LeBron would ultimately lead to the Lakers trading some of their young talent for proven veteran talent.
Paul George, on the other hand, has other motivations than just winning a championship. While he wants to challenge for a ring, he’s also dreaming of coming home to play for the team he grew up rooting for. Paul’s never been to the NBA Finals or won a championship so he would be more willing to be patient and give Lonzo, Brandon, Julius, and Kyle time to develop into the all-stars and superstars the Lakers need to become legitimate contenders.
Luke Walton and this young Lakers team are creating something special and Lakers fans across the country don’t want to see all the progress we’ve made this year thrown away in a quest to sign two superstars or sign LeBron James. We bled purple and gold for five miserable years and finally have a team to cheer for and believe in. The last thing we need right now is the Lakers to sign a 34-year old LeBron James and trade away a sustainable future to win now.
What this all comes down to is simple. The Lakers would be better off signing just one superstar rather than two this summer and Paul George hands down is the one they should sign. He’s a better fit than LeBron for the age, skillset, and needs of this young Lakers’ team and would also allow the Lakers to keep most of their own free agents, including Randle, Thomas, and Caldwell-Pope. The Lakers might even be able to sign Brook Lopez to their room exception.
The result would be a starting lineup of Lonzo Ball, Paul George, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, and Brook Lopez and a bench of Isaiah Thomas, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Josh Hart, Kyle Kuzma, and Thomas Bryant or the Cav’s 2018 first round draft pick. That’s a talented roster with legitimate potential to complete for an NBA championship in a year or two and a war chest of trading chips to use to add another superstar if opportunity knocks.
In a way, the decision to pursue LeBron or PG will most likely be decided by how far the Cleveland Cavs and OKC Thunder go in the playoffs. Lakers fans should be rooting for the Cavs to make the Finals so LBJ stays in Cleveland and the Thunder to go fishing early so PG leaves OKC. Considering the Cavs’ path to the Finals is a cake walk compared to the gauntlet the Thunder face, chances are great LeBron will stay and Paul George will sign with the Lakers.
And that’s great news because … Paul George is ALL the Lakers need!