LA Lakers' Summer: Free Agency, LeBron James, Possible Trades
The summer of 2018 has commenced and the Los Angeles Lakers have tremendous potential for improvement, far exceeding that of any other franchise in the NBA. The Lakers have by far the most cap space of any NBA team, a roster loaded with young talent, and multiple superstar players showing obvious interest in taking their talents to LA. The summer of 2018 appears promising but, do the Lakers have the wherewithal to transform their up-and-coming roster into an immediate championship contender? They do, I will outline and explain just how they can do it.
Creating the Cap Space
The most important piece for the Lakers this summer will be a shock to some people, Luol Deng. The Lakers need to gut their roster to have as much cap space as possible. The first step is getting the $18 million owed to Deng off the books. If the Lakers cannot find a way to dump the Deng contract, clearing enough cap space for two max contracts will be very difficult. They can do this by trading Deng or to a lesser extent, waiving him. If the Lakers trade him his salary is taken off the books, if they waive him they have the option to stretch the reaming guaranteed compensation owed ($18 mil) over a longer period of time. Waiving Deng would still create extra cap space for the team to work with, but a trade would be much more effective for them. The problem with a trade is no team wants to pay Deng $18 mil at a point in his career where he doesn’t add any on-court value. The Lakers would most likely need to give up draft picks or one of their young players with upside for a trade to happen.
Next, the Lakers need to let go of all their players with expiring contracts, the can retain Julius Randle only if they can trade Luol Deng. After cutting all players on non-guarantee contracts they will have around $66 million in cap space and have retained these players:
Notice how $66 million in cap space is enough for a 35% max contract cough LeBron cough and a 30% max contract cough Paul George cough, very convenient. Financially it could be any combination of the superstars hitting free agency this summer, but realistically it will be some combination of LeBron James, Chris Paul, and Paul George. By signing two of these three and retaining their young talent, the Lakers put themselves in a position to have an opportunity for a sign-and-trade deal with any player they feel they missed out. They also would have the opportunity to put together a very tempting package for the San Antonio Spurs in a possible Kahwi Leonard deal. There are several logistical ways for them to add a third superstar, but none of this happens without the King.
Courting the King
The Los Angeles Lakers face a very difficult task, convincing the best basketball player in the world to join their squad. Luckily for Laker fans everywhere, there is no better person for the job than Magic Johnson. LeBron has openly discussed how his family will play a role in the decision. The Lakers’ ability to bring in additional talent will play a role as well. If the Lakers want to sign the LeBron James, they will need to impress the King with their talent and inspire him with their plan.
LeBron has openly explained multiple times that deciding which situation is best for his family will play a role in his decision. Now some may say this means he will stay in Cleveland because that’s where his family is based right now. I believe that this actually favors LA for a couple of reasons. First, LeBron has two mansions in LA worth a combined $44 million. Next, Gary Payton told Sheena Davis, a reporter for BlackSportsOnline.com, that LeBron’s 13-year-old son has committed to a private high school in the valley of LA. This has not been confirmed by anyone in the James family but hasn’t been denied either. Finally, LeBron lives in those beautiful Brentwood mansions most of the offseason. Realistically nobody can know “What’s best” for another family, but I’d be surprised if his family has a problem living amongst the rich and famous in one of the most illustrious neighborhoods in Los Angeles. All though LeBron may think of LA as home, the Lakers will need to prove they are the right fit on the court as well.
Superstars On the Horizon
NBA free agency has become a second season of sorts. Every day there seems to be a new rumor monopolizing the headlines. A lot of these rumors revolve around the Los Angeles Lakers. Many of them include players such as LeBron James, Paul George, Kahwi Leonard and Chris Paul.
Both LeBron James and Paul George have player options, this gives them the opportunity to “opt out” of their contracts and become free agents this summer. Chris Paul is an unrestricted free agent this summer. Kahwi Leonard remains under contract but has reportedly requested to be traded with a specific interest in playing for the Lakers next season. All of these players are perennial all-stars and can greatly impact the success of a team alone. If the Lakers can acquire two or even three of these players, they would thrust themselves squarely into the championship conversation.
Each of the four stars are deserving of max contracts, but as we’ve seen in the past players will take less money than their market value in order to make their contracts work with their teams. LeBron James and Chris Bosh took $15 million pay-cuts to team up with Dwayne Wade in Miami, who took an $18 million pay-cut as well. Kevin Durant, Tim Duncan, and Dirk Nowitzki are other all-time greats who have taken significant pay-cuts to play with other talented players.
Just how big of a pay-cut would be needed for three of these players to team up? The salary cap for the 2018-2019 season is right around $101 million dollars, keep in mind teams can go over the cap and pay an additional fee to the league known as the “luxury tax.” The salary of a max contract is a percentage of the salary cap the year the contract begins. This percentage is decided by the number of years the player has been in the league. For example, Chris Paul and LeBron James have both been in the NBA for 10 or more years, making them eligible for a contract worth 35% of the salary cap (roughly $35mil). Paul George will be going into his 9th NBA season making his maximum contract salary 30% of the salary cap (roughly $30mil). Kahwi Leonard’s current contract is worth about $20 million for next season. So how can players who can all be paid so much be on the same team? Allow me to explain.
Beautiful Brentwood homes and all the amenities of Los Angeles may be important to LeBron and his family, but at the end of the day, James is looking to win a championship. The Lakers will need to prove to LeBron that they will be able to build a championship team around him, upon arrival. From appearances, Paul George will be representing the purple and gold next season regardless of LeBron’s decision. James and George would be a great pair, but they still need another piece to get over the Golden State mountain. The Lakers will need to part ways with some of their young talent to bring in another star via trade. Kahwi Leonard and Chris Paul are both possible players that could be brought in. In order to satisfy the King, the Lakers will need to show they are willing to sacrifice young talent and luxury tax dollars to build a championship roster. For LeBron to make a move to LA he needs to be confident in their ability to compete for a championship, or at least close enough where James can will the storied franchise back to the top of the NBA. The NBA is a business; in business, even when you have the perfect product, you need to have the perfect presentation. This is where Magic Johnson steps in…
Everyone wants LeBron, so the Lakers will need to blow him away with the meeting. Magic Johnson; one of the all-time great players, an accomplished businessman and one hell of a speaker should be able to compile a very impressive meeting. The meeting needs to sell basketball first, but they need to sell LeBron on the Lakers as a franchise. The basketball portion will rely a lot on what we discussed earlier; the Lakers have a lot of potential to add whoever they want, which is whoever gets LeBron to LA. With all the cap space and valuable trade assets (young talent and draft picks) the Lakers have they can work with LeBron to form the best roster possible. I imagine this goes smoothly. LeBron plays a similarly to how Magic played, the two of those basketball minds will be able to find a game plan. That should handle the basketball portion.
To sell LeBron on the Lakers organization they need to show him that by joining the franchise, he chisels himself into the history of the most storied franchise in the NBA. After the performance they put on for Kobe’s retirement and countless statues around the Staples Center, LeBron knows LA takes care of their players. Magic needs to get as many legendary Lakers to that meeting as possible. He needs everyone from Kobe and Shaq; to Kareem, B. Scott, Worthy and himself, to Jerry West. LeBron sitting in a room with those legends, discussing how he can carry on the legacy. Now that is the “blow him away” type of meeting they need to have.
The Supporting Cast
Once LeBron falls into place the next additions will come quickly. Paul George, an LA native, will be even more excited to join the team. There are a couple possible ways the Lakers can go as far as using their assets. They can trade some and keep some or trade all of them in an effort to acquire two super stars. Below will be some possible rosters for the Lakers:
These are all reasonable trades, but there's still a lot of logistical details the teams would need to work out.
Does a Lakers Team With No Trades Win a Ring?
As you can see the Lakers have potential to make a lot of moves, league-changing moves. Hopefully magic stumbles across this post. I can’t wait to see what happens this summer so many different possibilities. I will be posting more on the NBA summer and specific teams so follow me here on hub pages, hit me up on social media (linked in profile), and let’s get ready for a wild summer!