Sit tight, Los Angeles Lakers fans, because your team sure isn't.
Anyone who thought the Lakers would play it safe during free agency and bide their time until next summer was apparently wrong. So, most of us were wrong.
Shortly after the Lakers selected Julius Randle with the seventh overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft, general manager Mitch Kupchak was asked about free agency and how aggressive the team plans to be. His answer left little room for doubt.
"We're prepared," he said, via ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin. "If any of those players do want to make a move, we're prepared. And if we get word, when we're allowed to get word, we will go all out."
By "any of those players," Kupchak means Chris Bosh, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. Those are this summer's hottest free-agent commodities. Though the Lakers have preached patience during and after a nightmarish 2013-14 campaign, their stance on immediate action has softened lately.
Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com reported prior to the draft that the Lakers planned on reviving past free-agency dreams:
With LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony officially opting out of their contracts, multiple teams have begun the process of exploring roster moves that would create sufficient salary-cap space to sign 2014's marquee free agents in tandem this summer, according to sources close to the situation.
The Los Angeles Lakers, meanwhile, had begun exploring such machinations even before the opt outs of James and Anthony had become known, according to ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne.
Less than a year ago, the Lakers were plotting an identical pursuit, according to Windhorst and colleague Ramona Shelburne.
Said hopes gradually became more and more unrealistic. James didn't seem like he would sign with the Lakers just to run up Kobe Bryant's ring count, and the cost of pairing Anthony with Bryant appeared too high to actualize.
All signs had the Lakers waiting to maximize their spending power, as Kupchak explained to Lakers.com's Mike Trudell:
One of the premier free agents this coming summer was going to be Kobe Bryant. He'll no longer be a free agent. We have acquired him. As we approach the summer, we will see who's available and weigh it against what we think is a sound and prudent basketball and business decision. And we’ll decide whether to sign that player versus some other player this summer, or take somebody in a trade or make a trade, and weight it against the option of waiting another year.
But thanks to the New York Knicks' uncertain future and the Miami Heat's NBA Finals collapse, there is renewed hope in the Lakers' chances of landing another superstar now, raising the question: What does Kupchak mean by going "all out?"
He means exactly what it implies: Doing everything and anything to sign that second and, possibly, third superstar.
The Lakers have already tipped some of their hand. They elected not to extend Kent Bazemore a qualifying offer, making him an unrestricted free agent this summer, according to McMenamin.
Bazemore was slated to make just over $1.1 million next season, so the financial implications aren't significant. Then again, as Bleacher Report's Ethan Norof noted, every penny counts:
In the event the Lakers get word that they can sign one—or two—of the top free agents available, Kupchak will have to explore other courses of action to open things up even further.
Dumping Steve Nash's expiring pact will be priority No. 1. He's on the books for just over $9.7 million in 2014-15. Trading him would open up more cap space, allowing the Lakers to assemble a deeper supporting cast around Bryant and their latest acquisition, or permitting them to sell two star free agents on accepting a pay cut to play together.
Trading Nash won't be easy. It will likely entail them using Randle as a buffer—an incentive to any team with the ability to absorb Nash's contract.
Are the Lakers actually willing to go that far for another star or two? Tough to say.
Unless Kupchak gave us a straight answer.
Which he did—one that clearly states the Lakers will do whatever it takes to reinvent their roster as quickly as possible.
Salary information via ShamSports.
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