Before NBA free agency started, many thought the Los Angeles Lakers would end up with LeBron James as well as Paul George and Kawhi Leonard.
Even though James signed in Los Angeles, the only players that have joined him thus far are Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson and JaVale McGee on one-year deals. It’s a curious departure from when he signed with Miami (bringing Chris Bosh) as well as when he returned to Cleveland (and they traded for Kevin Love).
Jeff Zilgitt reported James remains comfortable with the roster and knows they’ll continue to get better (via USA TODAY):
“James believes the Lakers are in position – with some of the players they have now – to build a team that can contend for a championship soon. Also, James was not adamant that another All-Star, such as Kawhi Leonard or Paul George, had to join the Lakers for him to sign with the Lakers. He understands they can build and create a contender with him there.”
Los Angeles could have used their cap space to sign George as well as trading their rising talents potentially including Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart to acquire Leonard.
Or they could have been patient, letting the young core develop around James. They’ve thus far chosen to retain max cap space for next offseason when free agents like Leonard and potentially Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler and several others will hit the market.
Los Angeles will be an appealing destination because they will have money to spend and have James as a recruiter. While it’s still possible that Leonard could end up in Los Angeles, it’s now clear that George will not. In fact, he never even had a meeting with the front office before deciding to re-sign with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Jason McIntyre, who like many of us thought George was a lock to join the Lakers this offseason, noticed everything changed when Leonard wanted out of San Antonio (via FOX Sports):
“You dont just say I want to be a Laker and pine for the Lakers, grew up a Laker fan and then all of a sudden just say nah nah nah you want to be in OKC. I just don’t believe that’s what happened. I think the Lakers saw Kawhi on the market and said we want him and Paul George is nice but we’re going to go for Kawhi. All signs are pointing to the Lakers and Kawhi Leonard next summer.”
While it’s clear this was purely speculative and not a sourced report, the timeline adds up on his thought. Once word leaked Leonard felt his time in San Antonio was over, the rumors about George to Los Angeles immediately began to calm.
Suddenly, everything was focused more on what the Lakers could give up in a trade to land the 2014 NBA Finals MVP and less about signing George as a free agent.
George would still be a good fit alongside James. But if they could pick between the two, McIntyre argued the decision was obvious (via The Big Lead):
“Leonard plays the same position, is younger, and more accomplished. Leonard, a two-time defensive player of the year, is considered a Top 5 player in the NBA; George is more in the 10-15 range.”
The Lakers would have had to do some serious fiscally gymnastics to land both players to join James, possibly depleting their depth in the process.
They’d also have to potentially give up one of their developing players just to move the massive contract issued to Luol Deng to clear cap space, much like when they traded former No. 2 pick D’Angelo Russell to the Brooklyn Nets to shed the Timofey Mozgov contract.
Next offseason, Los Angeles will have James and a ton of cap space. As of now, they’ll also have their young players intact as well. If they had signed George and/or traded for Leonard, their situation would look a lot different. And next year, the Lakers will have more money to offer because they gave so many one-year deals this offseason.
DunkWire, Brandon Ingram, Chris Bosh, D'Angelo Russell, JaVale McGee, Josh Hart, Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Love, Kyle Kuzma, Lance Stephenson, LeBron James, Lonzo Ball, Luol Deng, Paul George, Rajon Rondo, Timofey Mozgov, Cleveland Cavaliers, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs