With the Los Angeles Lakers traveling to face the Oklahoma City Thunder, all the attention will be on Kevin Durant, who will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season.
Since Durant is this year’s top free agent, the Lakers are expected to pursue him heavily. The team is projected to have approximately $65 million in cap space to pursue him as well as other names like DeMar DeRozan and Hassan Whiteside. While Los Angeles has had ample cap space these past two off-seasons, they have not been able to land a superstar.
With the Lakers in their rebuilding process, general manager Mitch Kupchak believes they need to develop their young core of D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson first according to Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News:
“We have to develop our core players,” Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said in an interview with Los Angeles News Group. “When you’re recruiting a veteran free agent, especially a free agent that may have to take less money to come to your city, they want to know who they’re going to play with.”
If the young core can continue to develop, Kupchak believes the Lakers can be an attractive destination for veteran free agents, via Medina:
“It’s hard to convince a veteran free agent to come to L.A. because they’re going to love our No. 2 pick (Russell). Or they’re going to love playing with our seventh pick from a year ago (Randle),” Kupchak said. “But we’re hoping that all three of these guys can develop and go into the offseason so that we can say to prospective veteran free agents, ‘Listen you’ve seen them play this year, come play with them.’”
In the past two off-seasons, the Lakers were in the early stages of their rebuilding process and it is difficult to attract superstars who are looking to win championships. However, through the first 26 games of the season, the young core has shown plenty of promise and potential that could make Los Angeles an attractive destination again.
Although there were struggles to start the season, the Lakers have played well recently with Kobe Bryant adjusting his game to allow the young core to figure out what they can do at this level. In response, Russell has shined in his rookie season and is averaging 16.0 points and 5.4 assists in his last five games.