The Los Angeles Lakers are still in the process of rebuilding, but this offseason represents the chance to make big steps back toward contention.
With Kobe Bryant retiring and Roy Hibbert coming off the books, the organization will have a lot more money to spend in free agency this offseason. In addition to money, the current young core makes things much more interesting for perspective free agents.
"In the last two years, we had nothing to sell," vice president of basketball operations Jim Buss told Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders. "Trust me, it’s a whole different feeling when you walk into one of those pitches and we have a lot [more on the roster and cap room to add additional talent]."
Buss also hinted he was over the rebuilding process by adding, "I think our young guys are the perfect number, and we will add solid veterans."
On the surface, this means the team will target proven players on the free-agent market. Fortunately, there are a number of quality players available who could represent an instant upgrade to the roster.
Even discounting Magic Johnson's plan of targeting Kevin Durant and inquiring about LeBron James, there are still good realistic options like DeMar DeRozan. The Toronto Raptors All-Star is reportedly interested in going to Los Angeles next season, according to ESPN's Stephen A. Smith (via Ryan Ward of Lakers Nation).
There is also speculation about the Golden State Warriors' Harrison Barnes following new head coach Luke Walton to the Lakers, per Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group. A handful of other impact players could decide to sign on for the history of the organization and the promise of better years ahead.
However, Buss' comments could also tip his hand regarding the upcoming NBA draft. If he has the "perfect number" of young players, there might not be a need for any more, even with the Lakers having the second-best chance to get the No. 1 overall pick, per SB Nation's Jesus Gomez.
Colin Cowherd of Fox Sports reported the team's plan for the summer, according to his sources:
Top prospects Brandon Ingram and Ben Simmons certainly have tons of upside, although neither will likely make a major impact as a rookie. Ingram (6'9", 196 lbs) needs to add strength, while Simmons will need to improve his jump shot. Either player would help the Lakers in the future, but so would a proven player L.A. could acquire by trading the valuable high draft pick.
Bill Simmons of HBO provided a look at a specific player the team is reportedly targeting:
He added one potential deal the Indiana Pacers could at least consider:
On the other hand, Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders doesn't expect this to be a realistic option for the Lakers:
Obviously, Paul George is a talented player. In his first full season back from a devastating leg injury, he averaged a career-high 23.1 points per game while adding 7.0 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game. He was named to his third All-Star team this season and likely has many more in his future.
With that said, the Pacers aren't the contender they were a couple of years ago. They fought hard in the first round of the playoffs, but they were still just a No. 7 seed that barely reached the postseason and had virtually no shot at winning the title. Looking at the roster, it's hard to expect much of an improvement next season either.
Indiana is stuck in NBA purgatory—too good to get an elite young player in the draft but not good enough to contend for a championship. Considering the uncertain future of head coach Frank Vogel, per Gregg Doyel of the Indianapolis Star, this would be a good chance to rebuild.
This potential deal would give Indiana a high pick this offseason and another building block (presumably D'Angelo Russell). That would be at least two players who will help the team win in the future. It would also free up plenty of cap space the Pacers are using on someone making at least $18 million in each of the next three years, per Basketball-Reference.com.
As for the Lakers, George alone wouldn't be enough to make them contenders in the Western Conference. However, he could be the star the team will be missing without Bryant, someone to bring crowds to the stadium and sell jerseys. He also could be the type of player who brings other big-time stars to Staples Center.
With Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr. and others already on the roster, Los Angeles would immediately take a major jump from the embarrassment of this past season.
Any time you trade a top draft pick there is a lot of risk. Two years ago, the Cleveland Cavaliers were trying to add a missing piece for a championship run and got Kevin Love. Of course, they will likely regret giving up Andrew Wiggins down the line. The Lakers could have a similar thought about Ingram, Simmons or whoever else develops in the next few years.
Still, Los Angeles needs talent and star power next season. If it can't get it through free agency, aggressively pursuing a proven player through trades might be a smart move.
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