What a 2018 Lakers Super Team Might Look Like
The summer of 2018 has one of the most star studded free agent classes in years. The Los Angeles Lakers know this. They have been adding players on short term deals and trading away big contracts to clear up cap space.
For the first time since 2013, it appears as though the Lakers could be in a position to compete for the playoffs. If things go their way, the team could add several impact free agents and expedite their rebuild next summer.
We know who the team is targeting. The franchise has a very well known interest in Paul George (which is reported to be mutual), and ESPN lead NBA reporter Adrian Wojnarowski believes LeBron James has his eyes on Tinseltown. The Lakers are in the market for two of the best players in the market next summer. Could they actually land them?
Several factors should determine whether those two end up co-starring in Hollywood. The first is whether or not James and the Cavaliers are unable to dethrone the Golden State Warriors. James has a player option for the 2018-19 season, but a championship victory would likely entice the King to stay on his hometown Cavaliers. The worst case scenario for L.A. would be James opting out and signing a long-term deal with Cleveland.
The other factor is what happens with George and his new team. If the star swingman excels alongside reigning MVP Russell Westbrook, he may have second thoughts about a move to L.A. A Western Conference Finals appearance could convince George that OKC is the best situation for him.
For the sake of this article, let's just assume the Cavaliers are once again crushed by Golden State and the Thunder are unable to advance past the second round of the playoffs. In that case, both George and James are looking to leave their teams.
Assuming all of that happens, there's a very good chance both superstars decide to join Magic Johnson's franchise. Where there is smoke there is fire, so the duo very likely does have its collective eyes on a move to the Lakers.
George has recently said that his interest in joining the Lakers is overstated. That is what he is supposed to say, however. A player joining a new team isn't likely to talk about leaving it already.
In James' case, there are signs that he may be thinking about his next move as well. The King reportedly cut back his recruiting efforts for Cleveland this summer. The Cavs have only been able to land Jeff Green and Jose Calderon to a team that looked completely outmatched by Golden State. That should be a very troubling sign for fans in Cleveland.
Should George and James join forces in L.A., that would require the Lakers to gut its roster. For their part they know this. The team signed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to a one year contract and traded the cap-clogging Mozgov pact for Brook Lopez's expiring deal. D'Angelo Russell was a casualty in the deal, but that should pave the way for Lonzo Ball's ascension.
Ball is the franchise point guard moving forward. The team dealt a promising prospect in Russell to allow him full autonomy of the Lakers offense. Ball is the best asset the Lakers have, and will be the team's main recruitment tool.
Ball could make the game easier for James and George. As James ages, he may need someone to take over the playmaking aspect of the game. Ball projects to be a superior passer to Kyrie Irving. He could be able to take the pressure off of James as he progresses into his mid-thirties.
As for George, Ball is more likely to get the ball to him more than Westbrook. As talented as a distributor Westbrook is, he is the main man on the Thunder. George's arrival doesn't figure to change that. That could make him want to become a featured option for his hometown team.
Ball, James and George would immediately become one of the league's intriguing cores. It also cannot exist without some maneuvering by Rob Pelinka and the Lakers front office.
The team will have to renounce the cap holds of most of their roster to be able to offer a max contract to both James and George. Lopez, whose cap hold will be over $20 million, would have to be renounced. Caldwell-Pope would have to be renounced as well.
Jordan Clarkson, who makes $12 million a season, would have to be moved. Luol Deng, who will have two years after this one at $18 million would have to be dealt as well. In order to get out from underneath those two deals, the team may have to move one of its younger pieces. Guys like Larry Nance and Julius Randle, who will be due for a big raise, could be dealt mid season this year to a team looking for young talent that can absorb a bad contract or two.
Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram are the only two players the Lakers should consider keepers. The two of them are on cheap, rookie-scale deals. Given Magic's comments about Ingram being untouchable and the fact that he traded away Russell, it seems as though he is all in on the two.
With Ball and Ingram in town, and James and George potentially on board next season, the Lakers would rely on cheap talent to fill out the rotation. Luckily for them, they drafted several intriguing prospects during this years draft.
Josh Hart had a stellar college career and projects to be a high end bench piece. Kyle Kuzma and Thomas Bryant could be rim running bigs who could finish in the paint. Ivica Zubac could be the team's center of the future after showing breakout potential in sporadic appearances last season.
With all of this in mind, the Lakers would have a depth chart that could look like this:
PG - Lonzo Ball, Andrew Caruso
SG - Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart
SF - Paul George
PF - LeBron James, Kyle Kuzma
C - Ivica Zubac, Thomas Bryant
If the team can add a couple of ring chasing veterans to flesh out the roster, L.A. could resemble a juggernaut. Should James convince Dwyane Wade to take a paycut, Ingram can become a lethal sixth man capable of torching opposing defenses. Other veterans like Jamal Crawford, Vince Carter or David Lee can serve as veteran presences on a largely young team.
Whatever happens, the Lakers will have a much easier time selling free agents on signing on if they have George and James on their roster. The Lakers may finally get back to the promised land and tie the Celtics for the most championships ever if it can perform the heist of the century in Summer '18.