While it had long been widely speculated the Los Angeles Lakers had a desire to sign two free agents to max-level contracts this summer or next, it wasn’t until their trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers that the team was in position to accomplish as much.
There are still some steps to be taken in order to clear as much as $70 million in salary, but by trading Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr., the Lakers can take those on their terms. Specifically, by making a decision on Julius Randle, and potentially stretching Luol Deng’s contract.
That the Lakers are now better-equipped to pursue the likes of Paul George, LeBron James or DeMarcus Cousins this summer, and/or potentially Jimmy Butler and Klay Thompson and others in 2019, is indication of team president of basketball operations Magic Johnson’s mindset.
“Wouldn’t have made the [trade] if I wasn’t confident,” said Johnson of the likelihood the Lakers will manage to sign two superstar free agents. “We have got to take the next step.
“I like our core, I love the way Julius is playing right now. This is the best I’ve ever seen him play, and we want to see him continue to do that.
“We’re still on the outside looking in. No matter how good we’ve been playing, we’re not in the playoffs. We’re not one of the top eight teams in the West, and that’s just the bottom line. I don’t want to stay in this position. I want to have us be in the playoffs. The only path to that is to add to the roster we already have.”
Johnson’s confidence and words ring similar to those expressed by previous head of basketball operations Jim Buss and former general manager Mitch Kupchak. The duo missed on marquee free agents such as Carmel Anthony, LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Durant, among others.
The hope is that a young and talented roster will accompany a pitch from Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka that will resonate with free agents.
“This is what I came here to do, was to create flexibility for our organization so that one day we can have a superstar or two come to this organization with our incredible young talent that we have,” Johnson said.
While Johnson’s confidence can be attributed to being a Hall-of-fame point guard who once guided the franchise to five championships, Pelinka carries a similar mentality. “I think the way Earvin and I both run our businesses and lived our lives is, you operate in a position of strength and confidence,” he said.
“We have a very clear belief of what we want to accomplish. And let’s face it, in this league you can’t have an elite team if you don’t have elite players.”
Added Johnson: “We know what we’re working toward. We have a strategy, just like we had a strategy here at the trade deadline. Rob executed it in a flawless manner.”
WANT TO PARTICIPATE IN THE DISCUSSION? CHECK OUT THE NEW LAKERSNATION FORUM CLUB