While the Los Angeles Lakers have fancied themselves as an option for the league’s top players in free agency over recent years, the feeling for the 2018 class is much more optimistic. That’s despite longtime forgone conclusion Paul George appearing likely to re-sign with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Whether the Lakers miss out on George will come to light in the near future, and though there may be some disappointment, it could be erased by LeBron James. As expected, he declined a $35.6 million player option for the 2018-19 season.
On the surface, that benefitted the Lakers and Cleveland Cavaliers. Had James opted in, it may have signaled his intention to facilitate a trade; much like Chris Paul did between the Clippers and Houston Rockets last year.
Now, the Lakers are able to pursue James in effort to sign him outright, while the Cavs can still offer the most lucrative contract, even if their roster might not be as appealing when compared to other teams.
With the start of free agency a few hours away, the Lakers might be pulling ahead in the James sweepstakes, explained ESPN’s Brian Windhorst during an appearance on SportsCenter:
“Believe it or not, we are really in a crazy moment in NBA history, where where LeBron James is moving towards become a Los Angeles Laker. The Lakers, in my mind and my sources tell me, have the inside track here. The conversations they have with LeBron, whether it’s with LeBron directly or with his representation over the next 24 to 48 hours, is going to be a pivotal moment. They’re going to have to sell LeBron on a plan that would include potentially coming here to L.A. without another star free agent. Because at this point I don’t think the Lakers have the inside move on Paul George and they don’t have anywhere close to a deal for Kawhi Leonard. So they’ve got to be able to sell LeBron on the fact that they can build a team around here. They have a lot going for them. If they’re able to do that, I think LeBron is very interested in putting pen to paper in the short term here to join the Lakers.”
Since Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka took the lead in the Lakers’ front office, the organization has carefully maneuvered its way to being in position to add a pair of players to max contracts this summer. Though, Johnson and Pelinka have also indicated the salary cap space could be rolled over to 2019.
Although the ship may be sailing with George, every indication has been the Lakers will at least receive serious consideration from James. And if they’re able to sign the 14-year All-Star, it could accelerate trade talks for Leonard.
Another domino effect might be players willing to sign on team-friendly deals if it means joining a competitive team. Much like what’s been seen with the Golden State Warriors.
Whatever James ultimately decides, it could come rather quickly. He reportedly will not meet with the Cavaliers at midnight Eastern on Sunday morning, and is said to want to sign with a team in the early stages of free agency.
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