The pieces to the puzzle are falling into place one by one as the basketball gods clear the way for the Lakers to sign superstar LeBron James and return the storied franchise to basketball relevance and championship contention.
Dreams of playing with Chris Paul and James Harden on the Rockets or Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons on the 76ers have given way to the reality that family preferences and cap space advantages have made the Los Angeles Lakers the odds-on favorite to sign LeBron James in free agency this summer. The only missing piece to the puzzle is who will be the second superstar to sign to play with LeBron and help transform the Lakers into title contenders?
But what happens if Paul George decides to remain with OKC, DeMarcus Cousins opts to re-sign with the New Orleans, and the Spurs end up trading Kawhi Leonard to a team in the East? Would LeBron suddenly think staying in Cleveland would be a better option than coming alone to the Lakers? ESPN’s Ryen Russillo and Brian Windhorst both have tweeted that LeBron is not going to join the Lakers unless they’re able to sign a second superstar.
Ironically, I think Lebron going solo to the Lakers could actually be the best option for both the Lakers and James. Signing LeBron and Paul George would essentially eat all of the Lakers’ cap space for the foreseeable future and make it impossible for them to sign Kawhi Leonard as a free agent next summer. While LeBron and Paul George would make the Lakers a top four team in the West, LeBron and Kawhi would make them true championship contenders.
When an MVP caliber superstar wants to come home to L.A. and play for you, that’s an opportunity for which the Lakers must plan for and take advantage. The Lakers would be foolish to ‘settle’ for Paul George when Kawhi Leonard wants to join the team. Assuming he’s now completely healthy and able to return to pre-injury form, there is no better player around which to build a franchise than Kawhi Leonard. He’s even more important than LeBron James.
By signing LeBron this summer and Kawhi next summer, the Lakers can have their cake and eat it too. While LeBron is all about winning right now, Kawhi is the counter weight to balance winning now with building for the future. Waiting one more year before signing a second superstar would also be an investment in the team’s young core. It could mean keeping Julius Randle and rolling the dice on a short term ‘prove it’ contract for Isaiah Thomas.
The Lakers find themselves perfectly positioned with a multitude of options as they head into this summer. They would be smart to plan on convincing LeBron that waiting to sign Kawhi Leonard next summer would be the best option for both the Lakers and James. Besides Kawhi, the free agent class of the summer of 2019 projects to include other candidates who could also be outstanding fits on the Lakers, including Klay Thompson and Kyrie Irving.
Financial flexibility is the key to being able to take advantage of roster opportunities. The Lakers and LeBron James would be smart to be patient and wait to sign Kawhi Leonard as their second free agent summer of 2019. Kawhi’s addition would not only elevate the Lakers to legitimate contenders and give them a more sustainable championship team but also give LeBron a front court mate whose presence should help enhance and extend his career
Signing LeBron this summer and Kawhi summer of 2019 could be the Lakers’ best route to building a sustainable superteam that can compete with today’s Rockets and Warriors and evolve into a dynasty as their young core matures.