For the last year, the bulk of NBA free agent rumors have pointed towards the Los Angeles Lakers pursuing Paul George and LeBron James this summer. Signing one or both was something that always seemed like it might be a pipe dream.
The young Lakers roster has shown a ton of promise while compiling a 21-31 record so far this season, but it always seemed unlikely that George and/or James would jump ship from their current contenders to join the (currently) 11th-best team in the Western Conference. No matter how much potential players like Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma have shown as rookies.
According to Ramona Shelburne and Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, the Lakers have realized that they might have been jumping the gun a bit and are shifting their attention to the 2019 free agent class:
As the Los Angeles Lakers become more realistic about the franchise’s chances of snaring superstars in the free-agent class of 2018, the front office is increasingly looking through a longer lens in its team building process, league sources told ESPN.
The Lakers aren’t abandoning a summer pursuit of stars, but rather they are recalibrating their focus on a 2019 class that could include San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard, Golden State’s Klay Thompson and Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler, league sources told ESPN.
With George’s latest comments pointing to him being content with the Thunder and previous reports outlining that James was ‘a longshot; to come to Los Angeles anyway, this might be the most prudent and realistic move the Lakers could make.
Waiting another year to aim for a big splash in free agency gives the team’s young core another year to grow. Not only that, but Luol Deng’s contract will only have a year left on it, potentially making it less pricey to attempt to dump on another team.
This shift in attention may ultimately make the D’Angelo Russell trade sting a bit more for some, since there was apparently less of a rush to get Timofey Mozgov’s contract off of the books than previously thought. But it would also be pointless for the Lakers to double down on that potential mistake by putting all their eggs in the 2018 free agency basket.
With another year for their young stars to grow, the Lakers might be able to more easily clear cap space and entice a free agent that fits better with their core’s timeline, in addition to helping them be less desperate at the 2018 trade deadline.
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