Heading into the 2017-18 NBA season, the Los Angeles Lakers figured to be in for another year of futility but one they hoped would come with progress. And though the franchise missed the playoffs for a fifth consecutive season, optimism is abound within the organization.
A young core comprised of Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma have many pointing to the Lakers as a team on the rise and an attractive landing spot for prospective free agents. It doesn’t hurt that they are on track to have the most salary cap space available this summer.
“I was very excited about the growth of our young players. With Julius having an awesome year and the rest of the young guys coming into play, our upside and the future of this franchise is bright,” Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson said.
“The players see what we’ve built and I think the league is seeing what we’re building. I feel really good about the direction of this franchise. And last but not least, I feel really good about Rob and I getting somebody in a room and talking to them about coming and playing for the Lakers.”
The Lakers’ intention and hope of signing at least one marquee free agent has been well-documented. Growth and development this season wasn’t just that. It was painted as what it meant for the franchise’s probability in landing a star.
Johnson, however, doesn’t believe that served as any sort of deterrent to the players who were on the roster. “We’re going to always be transparent. We work as the front office, they play. That’s the bottom line,” he said.
“Everybody has to do their jobs. It didn’t affect the guys. The guys went out there and played, and they were awesome. We can’t tell you what’s going to happen in July, so we’re just going to save that until July.”
For as much as the Lakers have been tied to pursuing two max-level free agents, general manager Rob Pelinka allowed for the possibility of the the team’s strategy shifting based on circumstance.
“If we want to talk about any healthy process unfolding, if I could use a metaphor, I think how we look at things is more like a river than it is lake. It is changing every day,” Pelinka said.
“The beauty of working with Earvin, Jeanie and Luke is, the four of us are always in lockstep with where things are. We have periodic meetings throughout the season, where as the team is growing, our evaluation and different strategies are fluid and changing as well.”
Once such change may come in the form of a potential trade involving San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard. As his relationship with the team has soured, Gregg Popovich reportedly is considering trading the former MVP candidate.
That type of unexpected development is one Johnson pointed to as a benefit of having an ample amount of cap space. He likened it to the Boston Celtics being in position to trade for Kyrie Irving last offseason.
But when asked if the Lakers would consider trading away some of their young core, Johnson declined to comment during his exit interview.
“We’re not going to talk about that.” he said.