Where’s Robin for LeBron’s Batman?

Why finding a second superstar who fits with and wants to play with LeBron James may be more challenging than expected

Despite LeBron James, a talented young core, and $38 million in cap space, the Los Angeles Lakers’ grand plan to sign a second superstar in free agency next summer to be Robin to LeBron James’ Batman may be in danger.

After passing on opportunities to trade for Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, the Lakers suddenly find themselves facing a serious challenge in their quest to find a second superstar who fits well with and wants to play with LeBron. While we’re still a long way away from next summer and things can change, the chances the Lakers will sign a second superstar next summer to play with LeBron isn’t a slam dunk despite a deep and impressive free agent class.

That puts Magic Johnson on the hot seat as he’s promised a second superstar. The problem is twofold: finding a superstar who fits with and wants to play with LeBron James and then convincing him to abandon his current team. While playing with LeBron has its rewards, including a chance to win a ring, it also has its disadvantages, including having to adjust to playing with a ball dominant megastar like LeBron and sacrificing style of play, role, and stats.

The elite free agents likely to be available next summer can be divided into three tiers. The first tier includes top-five superstars Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard, future Hall of Fame players who would be more equals and co-stars with LeBron rather than sidekicks. While there’s a good chance KD and Kawhi will leave their current teams, the prevailing opinion is neither is interested in joining the Los Angeles Lakers and playing second fiddle to LeBron James.

Frankly, I’m not convinced playing with LeBron would deter Kevin Durant from joining the Lakers. Winning today is more about superstars teaming up to form superteams than being the ‘man’ or having your ‘own’ team. There’re lots of losing teams in the league with one or two superstars. KD’s all about winning. That’s why he joined Steph Curry and the Warriors. If he leaves the Warriors, it’ll only be to a team that can win a championship. Like the Lakers.

That’s why the crazy rumors of Kevin Durant to the Knicks don’t make any sense. The last thing in the world Kevin wants is to bolt the Warriors for a team that doesn’t win the championship. The only thing worse would be his leaving and the Warriors still winning, which would substantiate Draymond Green’s taunt that they didn’t need Durant to win. It doesn’t take a genius to see KD’s smart move would be to join LeBron and win a ring with the Lakers.

As for Kawhi, you have to wonder whether that ship sailed when the Lakers passed on trading for him. The rumors are he still wants to come home to L.A. but to play for the Clippers and not the Lakers, either because he wants to be the ‘man’ or he doesn’t want the media hype that comes with playing with LeBron. Kawhi may be an enigma but he’s still a top five player who wants to come home and play in L.A. He’ll be the Lakers’ primary target after KD.

If the Lakers can’t land KD or Kawhi, they’ll turn their attention to three second tier free agents who are top-five at their positions and would be great fits with LeBron: Klay Thompson, Kemba Walker, and DeMarcus Cousins. Each of these three plays a different position and brings a different dynamic in how they fit with LeBron and the Lakers’ current roster. They’re not top-five studs like KD or Kawhi but they’re perfect Robins for LeBron’s Batman.

Klay Thompson would be the likely first choice because of his two-way game, elite 3-point shooting, and proven ability to play with multiple superstars. While Klay insists he wants to finish his career with the Warriors, there’s always a chance he might want a bigger role and stage if the Dubs win again. And there’s the link with Mychal Thompson, Klay’s father, who’s a former Lakers’ star and current member of the Lakers’ radio broadcasting team.

Kemba Walker would also be a great fit playing with LeBron as his skillset and style of game are similar to Kyrie Irving, who won a ring with LeBron. Kemba is having a breakout year and is among the league’s scoring leaders. Michael Jordon is ‘hellbent’ on re-signing Kemba but that may be difficult as the Hornets don’t have much besides Kemba and he’s grown tired of losing. Kemba would reunite LeBron James with a great score-first point guard.

DeMarcus Cousins would be the riskiest option as he is coming off a major injury and has lingering questions about his character and fit with LeBron. Boogie is scheduled to return to the court in the near future so the Lakers will be able to get an idea of what kind of player he’ll be post injury. Right now, signing Cousins is probably a longshot as he’s not going to have the defensive impact McGee is having right now and the Lakers don’t need more offense.

If the Lakers strike out KD, Kawhi, Klay, Kemba, and Boogie, they should rethink their strategy and focus on building a war chest for Anthony Davis by signing multiple talented third-tier stars to favorable multi-year contracts. Right now, the Lakers lack the tradable midrange contracts the Raptors used to get Kawhi or the 76ers used to land Butler and awarding a max contract to any of the remaining free agents would be a mistake and consolation prize.

Instead, the smart thing to do is use the cap space to upgrade the team with players who’d also be attractive to the Pelicans in a trade for Anthony Davis, stars like Khris Middleton, Tobias Harris, Nikola Vucevic, or Trevor Ariza. The list should also include Lakers’ free agents Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Rajon Rondo, and JaVale McGee, all of whom could be tradable assets with the right deal as well as key additions to team roster depth and diversity.

While signing a second superstar would be the easiest way for the Lakers to find a Robin for LeBron’s Batman, spending their cap space on tradable assets to swap for a second superstar could give provide more attractive candidates. Loaded with an comprehensive portfolio of valuable trading chips, the Lakers could seek midseason trades from a superstar list featuring Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard, Bradley Beal, Draymond Green, or Karl Anthony-Towns.

Magic Johnson has made it clear the Lakers are not content with anything less than the best. That’s not going to change now that they have LeBron. They ideally want to sign a free agent Robin to play with LeBron’s Batman this summer but if they can’t do that, then they’ll turn their focus to getting ready to make a mega trade for Anthony Davis, whose recent signing with Klutch Sports was considered by many as his first step to joining the Lakers.

Where’s Robin for LeBron’s Batman? He’s on the way as Magic Johnson has his gunsights locked on the best in the NBA: Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson, Kemba Walker, DeMarcus Cousins, and Anthony Davis.

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