So, LeBron James is finally a Laker. To no one’s great surprise, he signed on the dotted line overnight U.K. time Sunday 1 July, agreeing to a four-year, $154 million contract with the yellow and gold, as reported by his agency Klutch Sports:
— Klutch Sports Group (@KlutchSports) July 2, 2018
It’s a move that’s been coming ever since the Cleveland Cavaliers blew up their roster back in February to try and convince James that he had a future in ‘The Land’. Not wanting to spend the remaining years of his career slogging it out with Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith, LeBron did the only thing anyone realistically ever thought he was going to do, despite outside interest from the Philadelphia 76ers.
This time there was no fanfare, no ‘Decision’ and no promise of 100,000 rings. This is, after all, as much a case of LeBron setting himself up for retirement as it is a move aimed at bolstering his already impressive legacy, not to mention doing right by his family.
Which is just as well, as most of LeBron’s new teammates are only marginally older (of course, I exaggerate) than his kids. He joins the likes of Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma, all of whom have been drafted in the past couple of years. He’ll also be playing alongside NBA Champion (yeah, you read that right) JaVale McGee (who reportedly joins L.A. on a one-year minimum contract), old enemy Lance Stephenson (who reportedly joins for one-year at $4.5 million) and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope:
Sources: KCP agreeing to a one-year, $12 million deal. https://t.co/jxd6a4ToC0
— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) July 2, 2018
These are smart moves by the Lakers front office, who’ve quickly added three veteran role players to the roster on short-term, cap friendly deals. The reason? They may struggle to add anyone else.
LeBron was always going to be the big fish, but Paul George signing with the Oklahoma City Thunder means that the Lakers options this summer are limited. Best case, they may be able to pry Kawhi Leonard away from San Antonio. Worst case, they add a couple more solid role players on flexible deals and hold off until next summer.
Because, remember, that’s when Leonard becomes a free agent. That said, he has, according to Woj, been very vocal about his desire to join the Lakers:
Sources: As trade talks have unfolded, Kawhi Leonard’s focus is unchanged: He wants to be a Laker. https://t.co/0wZGf5MrNt
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 2, 2018
But, recent developments will most likely have driven Kawhi’s price up and one suspects that if the Lakers really want him now they’ll have to pay big (and potentially involve another team to make the deal work). Arguably this shouldn’t be a huge problem. The likes of Lonzo, Hart, Ingram and Kuzma are just potential at this stage and if you can swap that for a bonafide superstar you do it. Don’t forget that they had a chance to do exactly that with George last summer but didn’t, assuming he’d sign with them no matter what this offseason (which worked out rather well for OKC).
What the Lakers will need is an assurance from Kawhi’s camp that he’d be happy to sign there long-term. If Magic and co. are then able to surround the two with decent contributors they could be in for a decent 2018-19 campaign, followed by a summer spent doing whatever it takes to go out and get ready to go after the Warriors / whoever the following year.
The alternative scenario sees them employ patience, re-signing Julius Randle and bolstering further this summer, before attempting to get Kawhi in free agency next.
And, as ESPN reports, James is in no rush to get things done:
“A source told [Ramona] Shelburne that the Lakers felt a sense of urgency this week to find a co-star to play alongside James, either through free agency with George or through a trade for Leonard. Johnson went to one of James’ houses in Los Angeles late Saturday night and met with him for several hours, sources told Shelburne. However, when Johnson spoke to James and James’ camp at the opening of free agency, James assured the Lakers that this was a long-term play for him and his decision wouldn’t be affected by a single transaction the Lakers could make under time pressure.”
The key will be to surround James with the right players, while trying to maintain as much financial flexibility as possible. Still, it’s important to remember that the King gets what the King wants and although he delivered the championship his hometown fanbase wanted so badly in Cleveland, he leaves the franchise in a pretty dire state (courtesy of Dan Gilbert, or so we’ve been led to believe).
The Lakers fanbase (which has, by all accounts, just doubled, or perhaps even tripled – sorry!) won’t be thinking that far ahead at this stage though. They’ll be thinking about how awesome the next three or four years are going to be, not to mention the titles to which their franchise is entitled simply by virtue of being the Lakers.
Whatever happens, all eyes will be firmly focused on L.A. for the next few years as the best player in the game balls out for one of its most storied franchises.
What could possibly go wrong?
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