Will Lakers' Failed Season Cost Them in 2019 Free-Agent Market?

Eric Pincus@@EricPincusLA Lakers Lead WriterMarch 4, 2019

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James paues during the closing seconds of the team's NBA basketball game against the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday, March 1, 2019, in Los Angeles. The Bucks won 131-120. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — Given the 30-33 Lakers' inability to consistently win against multiple lottery teams (Suns, Knicks, Cavaliers, Wizards, Grizzlies, Hawks), it appears the franchise will miss the postseason for the sixth straight year. For LeBron James, it would be a first since the 2004-05 season.

But does it matter?

To a degree, of course it does. The team had high expectations after signing James. Before his Dec. 25 groin injury, the Lakers were the fourth-place team in the Western Conference. Coupled with Lonzo Ball's ankle injury, the Lakers haven't been ready to consistently compete.

Winning can hide a team's flaws. The Lakers were supposed to be a fully functional organization after part-owner Jeanie Buss fired her brother Jim Buss and general manager Mitch Kupchak, ending years of divided leadership and installing Earvin "Magic" Johnson and Rob Pelinka as the team's player personnel visionaries.

No one in charge is looking great right now, especially after the team made a public pitch to acquire Anthony Davis. A trade never materialized, but the Los Angeles TimesBroderick Turner reported the Lakers were essentially willing to deal anyone not named James for the New Orleans Pelicans' All-Star.

Johnson never denied the report, instead claiming that New Orleans didn't operate on good faith and that his roster needs to accept that players get traded in sports. That message didn't seem to resonate, though, as the Lakers are 2-6 since Johnson visited the team in Philadelphia. The stretch run to the playoffs has been an unmitigated disaster.

Jeanie Buss didn't slam the Davis reports as "fake news" until early March, and the damage was already done.

While a professional should put full effort into competing every night, especially when he's receiving a lucrative salary, winning in the NBA is built on trust. With that broken, the Lakers are a shell of the team that was fighting for home-court advantage on Christmas Day.

Fans, as well as several media outlets, have turned against coach Luke Walton. It's reasonable to think that a failed run at the playoffs will cost Walton his job.

Chris Szagola/Associated Press

Once again, even with all the negativity surrounding the franchise, does it matter in the big picture?

Los Angeles still has enough salary-cap space to sign a free agent to a max salary. Is there a reason to believe that a player like Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant or Klay Thompson doesn't want to join James in Los Angeles because the team had a bad season? If anything, wouldn't that relieve some of the potential backlash they might face if they join James with the Lakers already a contender?

Leonard may stay with the Raptors, but the buzz around the league is that he'll leave for Los Angeles after the season. That could mean the Clippers, as some speculate, but it may well be the Lakers.

The Celtics are struggling as well. If Irving decides to leave, he may join Durant in New York with the Knicks, or perhaps he decides to reunite with James in L.A.

If the Warriors hesitate in paying Thompson a max salary, he could join the team his father, Mychal, once played for. Durant is another intriguing possibility, and while no one player should be considered a favorite to choose the Lakers, Johnson is betting that one will.

The Davis possibility remains.

The Pelicans have since fired general manager Dell Demps, and Danny Ferry has the job in the interim, leading the search for a new front-office chief. A new hire might find a Lakers package more favorable than the previous regime, though convincing New Orleans ownership may be a challenge, especially after the ugliness that transpired leading up to the deadline.

Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

The future is nothing but a bunch of maybes for Johnson and the Lakers, and this season is certainly a black eye. But if the team manages to reach its true aspiration of landing a star free agent plus Davis, the narrative in July will be that the 2018-19 season was a necessary stepping stone to what could be another Lakers dynasty.

That's a lot to ask.

The team may also strike out with each top free agent. Davis may end up with the Celtics or another franchise. The James years in Los Angeles may better resemble the Michael Jordan years with the Wizards.

Or maybe the Lakers are experiencing something like Kobe Bryant's Chucky Atkins/Smush Parker years before the team landed Pau Gasol and went to the NBA Finals three straight years, winning two titles.

Meanwhile, the Lakers will presumably have a lottery pick, and while the odds are slim that they jump to the top four (roughly 95.2 percent against), that selection may be why Davis ends up in Los Angeles, which would certainly change the narrative on the current campaign.

The answers are unclear, but they'll come soon. The lottery is May 14, the draft June 20, and free agency begins July 1.

          

Email Eric Pincus at eric.pincus@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter, @EricPincus.

Related

    Report: Grizz Grant Lakers Permission to Speak with Dwight

    NBA logo
    NBA

    Report: Grizz Grant Lakers Permission to Speak with Dwight

    Scott Polacek
    via Bleacher Report

    Buying or Selling the Hottest Offseason Takes

    3️⃣ Do the Lakers need a third star? 🤨 Is the Dubs' dynasty dead? 🔒 Zion a ROY lock?

    NBA logo
    NBA

    Buying or Selling the Hottest Offseason Takes

    3️⃣ Do the Lakers need a third star? 🤨 Is the Dubs' dynasty dead? 🔒 Zion a ROY lock?

    Greg Swartz
    via Bleacher Report

    Young Role Players Who Can Still Become Stars

    NBA logo
    NBA

    Young Role Players Who Can Still Become Stars

    Jonathan Wasserman
    via Bleacher Report

    Who Are the NBA's Best Clutch Scorers?

    10 seconds left, tie game: Who gets the ball?

    NBA logo
    NBA

    Who Are the NBA's Best Clutch Scorers?

    10 seconds left, tie game: Who gets the ball?

    Andy Bailey
    via Bleacher Report