The Los Angeles Lakers and their plan to clear to max slots for 2018 NBA free agency has been well known for quite some time.
It played a part in president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka making the decision to deal Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. at the trade deadline this season, as well as the trade to send D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov to the Brooklyn Nets last summer.
Still, Johnson maintains the Lakers aren’t putting all their eggs into one basket. “We don’t have to sign anybody this summer,” Johnson said during the executives exit interviews.
“We’ve already said if we don’t feel we can get somebody in ‘18 we’ll get somebody in ‘19. I feel really good with where we are. We’re not going to give money away just to say we signed somebody.”
Pelinka echoed that sentiment: “We have to realize there is a July 2018 and a July 2019 window. We’re not married to one or the other.”
Their comments mirror what Johnson and Pelinka said after they cleared salary at the deadline, and their stance makes sense both practically and from a negotiating perspective.
Sure, the Lakers would love to sign Paul George or LeBron James, but beyond those two names, 2018 isn’t the most talent-laden free agency class. And spending money just because you have it is how you end up with Mozgov and Luol Deng signed to gargantuan deals.
And if teams know the Lakers are desperate to clear cap space to make signings right away, they’ll demand an even higher price when the team attempts to move Deng this summer. So L.A. not marrying itself to signing big free agents this summer gives them a bit more leverage and credibility in those salary dump negotiations.
If the Lakers whiff on marquee names, a plan centered around re-signing back Julius Randle and signing a couple short-term contributors like they did with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, makes sense.
As does the Lakers front office trying to fight back against the perception that everyone knows their intentions come free agency.