The 2017-18 version of the Los Angeles Lakers, front office included, are fishermen as much as they are a basketball team. The hope is that their young talent and mountain of cap space will become the bait to lure up to two of the NBA’s marquee free agents this summer.
Reeling one in, however, is easier said than done. I remember one particular fishing trip with my dad vividly. I was probably 10, maybe 11, and my dad wanted to make some memories before I hit those obnoxious teenage years.
We had tackle boxes, bait, fishing rods, the works. We got up at an ungodly hour and headed out on Lake Mission Viejo, our local man-made fishing hole. Hour after hour went by with no luck.
Then, finally, my dad felt a tug on his line. He reeled in a laughably small fish, and as I thrust the net out to grab it, the slimy little thing broke free of the hook. I wasn’t quick enough, and it plopped back into the freedom of the lake.
All that patience, all that waiting, the exhaustion, for one moment that slipped away.
Rebuilding an NBA franchise isn’t much different. It requires skill, patience, the right bait, and a bit of luck. Find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time and you won’t catch a thing; it doesn’t matter how good you are.
And sometimes, try as you might, the fish still gets away.
For the Lakers, the plan is to go fishing this summer. They will attempt to convince the likes of LeBron James, Paul George, and perhaps DeMarcus Cousins that they should join a team that, frankly, hasn’t won much of anything recently.
It’s a challenge, and one that the Lakers have to find a way to conquer if they want to return from the wasteland of mediocrity.
The problem, primarily, is that the NBA has a talent-supply problem, and it has hit the Lakers hard in their post-Kobe Bryant years.
Simply put, there aren’t enough star players to go around, and they are essential for any kind of real success in the league.
When my dad and I left the lake empty handed, we simply stopped for breakfast on the way home. Disappointed, but satisfied.
For the Lakers, however, failing to land the big fish this summer would have greater consequences. There is no satisfying meal waiting to be had just around the corner. In the NBA, teams that don’t land the big fish metaphorically starve.
So the Lakers will take their chances, hopeful that the cap space they have hoarded will pay off in a major way.
Adding two of the aforementioned names would thrust them back into contention. Debate all you want about whether they would be a match for the Golden State Warriors, but the bottom line is that the Lakers would once again be in the discussion, and that’s a massive improvement over the past four seasons.
On the flip side, the thought of watching the fish slip away again has to be keeping president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka up at night.
After all, this plan isn’t new. The previous regime, led by Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss, also preserved cap space to chase Carmelo Anthony, LaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre Jordan, and more.
All said no. I mean, Kevin Durant wouldn’t even meet with them.
In this day and age, where social media allows brands to be built from anywhere on Earth, winning is at the top of the list of every superstar free agent. They don’t want to rebuild or wait for youngsters to develop.
There is no guarantee that James, George, or Cousins will have any interest in teaming up with Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, or anyone else that is still with the team past the trade deadline.
That’s why the last few months of the season will be so important for the Lakers. The playoffs are out of the question, but if they can make a push up the standings a bit while playing fun, fast-breaking basketball and finish the season off with momentum it could make a difference.
Perception is everything. Over the last few years, the Lakers have looked like a team without hope, with little to sell free agents on besides sunshine and dollar signs.
Now, they have some interesting pieces. Ball passes with purpose, Kuzma has been a revelation, and at times Ingram looks like the endless-limbed Swiss Army Knife we thought he could be during the 2016 draft.
Even Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle, both still young players in their own right, have shown flashes of brilliance, even if their future with the organization is a bit murky.
Combined, that just may be strong enough bait to attract the attention of a big fish or two. From there, it will be up to Johnson and Pelinka to seize the moment and reel them in.
They have to be hoping that this young team can continue to show promise, if only because it makes their sales pitch this summer slightly more powerful.
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