The Los Angeles Lakers expect to be busy this offseason. They have a new coach in Luke Walton, the No. 2 pick in this year's draft in Brandon Ingram and an emerging core of young players ready to lead this team in a post-Kobe Bryant era.
A sign the Lakers will stay firmly entrenched in the news and rumors cycles this summer comes in the form of recent comments from general manager Mitch Kupchak, per Silver Screen and Roll's Harrison Faigen:
So we do feel we need to address the frontcourt, but taking a step back I think we need help everywhere, so I wouldn't rule out signing a veteran player at any position. In fact, we may be aggressive in the backcourt position, even though we have backcourt players. Not because we don't like the ones we do, but because we think we can get better.
While that points to the Lakers cobbling together a free-agent haul from perhaps the second or third rung or top free agents, there is still some expectation that they will swing for the fences and try to land Kevin Durant.
"I can't imagine Durant wouldn't talk to us," said a source to ESPN's Chris Broussard. "That would shock me."
Durant not talking to the Lakers might shock at least one person involved with the team, but it really shouldn't.
According to this quote via The Oklahoman's Anthony Slater, Durant appears to only have interest in playing for a contender. Per Broussard, he's scheduled to meet with six teams when free agency begins on July 1. This includes the likes of the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs.
The team with the worst regular-season record from last year on Durant's shortlist is the Boston Celtics, who finished 48-34, a far cry from the Lakers' 17-65 campaign.
Apparently, the Lakers are hoping their ample cap space can allow them to bring in top players in tandems or groups.
"We want to pitch guys on combinations, as opposed to just one guy," the source said, per Broussard. "We'll say to a guy, 'Who do you want to play with? We've got the room to go get him.'"
This may be a fine strategy to lure players like Al Horford, who are older and may want to see more immediate results, but money and a free-agency buddy system aren't going to be enough for Durant. He may still be just 27 years old, but it seems he wants to spend his prime contending for a ring, rather than leading a rebuild and running the risk of chasing championships well into his 30s.
The persistence of chatter involving top-tier free agents may be due to pressure on Jim Buss and the rest of his family to turn the Lakers around sooner rather than later.
A lengthy profile of the Buss family from Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding pulled back the curtain on the top-level machinations in the Lakers organization, and it reveals that Jim, and even Kupchak, may be quickly running out of time to bring the Lakers back to past glory.
As for who might step in to direct the organization in the near future should Jim fail, well, Ding mentions Joey and Jesse Buss as possibilities (though they are very young). But he also writes that Phil Jackson is still talked about as an option:
Of course, there is another possibility the Busses discuss regularly, a guy who is practically family—Phil Jackson.
He can opt out of his Knicks contract in a year, and he's believed to be able to get out of it the year after that, too. Despite Jackson's limited results in New York, he has served an obvious purpose for James Dolan, taking the heat off the owner by accepting it himself.
That is something the Buss family has noticed as a worthwhile formula as they continue to take their hits, besides how useful Jackson might be recruiting free agents even if he doesn't do day-to-day work.
The thing is, Jackson is legitimately committed to getting the Knicks on the upswing.
Jackson is currently the president of the New York Knicks. While this illustrious franchise has had more than its fair share of troubles in the past couple of years, there are some signs it may be emerging from this dark period.
The Knicks won 32 games last season, a 15-win improvement over the year before. Kristaps Porzingis ignited the fan base as a rookie last season, averaging 14.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. The Knicks also swung a trade for Derrick Rose this offseason, which has increased hopes the team can make further improvements by luring in top free agents.
Jackson indeed may not want to leave all of this. If the Knicks snag a couple of free agents and make serious strides again this season, Jackson could have little incentive, other than nostalgia and living closer to Jeanie (to whom he's engaged), to opt out of his contract and return to the West Coast.
While there may be turmoil and uncertainty behind the scenes, bright spots for the Lakers can be found in the players, who generally aren't out of the public light for long.
Jordan Clarkson appears very committed to improving his game. Here's a cool little video on his offseason workout regimen with strength coach Tim DiFrancesco, per the Lakers' Instagram account:
Clarkson averaged 15.5 points, 2.4 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game last season. He's capable of playing both backcourt spots and could be very valuable to the Lakers as a starter in the near future, or even as a key role player on a contender down the line (perhaps more, if he improves exponentially).
Clarkson is a restricted free agent this offseason, so there is no guarantee the team brings him back. However, there are plans to do so, per NBC LA's Shahan Ahmed:
A potential Summer League showcase from Clarkson shows he is nothing if not dedicated to improving his game.
Clarkson's dedication to his craft this offseason could be drawing the interest of franchises across the league, so the Lakers should be looking to lock him up sooner rather than later. There are no guarantees the Lakers will find the right talent in the open market this summer. Focusing on the players in-house will be key to their future success.