Yesterday, NBA superstar LeBron James signed with the Los Angeles Lakers on a four-year deal worth $153.3 million.
It was the third time that the man aptly nicknamed ‘The King’ had changed teams via free agency, having departed the team that drafted him, the Cleveland Cavaliers, for the Miami Heat in 2010, before then announcing he was returning back to the Cavs in 2014.
Both of those moves were surprising at the time and caught a number of people off-guard. This move didn’t come as a complete shock – as the rumour of James joining the Lakers had been swirling around for over a year – but it was still a nervous wait for the Lakers organisation and their fans.
In the first 24 hours of free agency, there was a flurry of activity and signings, but nothing from LeBron himself. It ensured that a number of fan-bases held their breath, and everyone wondered where the league’s best player would land.
All-Star Paul George had long been considered an almost certainty to sign with the Lakers, which would make it easier to attract LeBron, as it would provide him with a high-quality teammate.
That ‘certainty’ felt appropriate. Apart from the fact George is from Los Angeles, he’d also literally made his intention to move home clear, asking his former team – the Indiana Pacers – for a trade to LA. They instead shipped him to Oklahoma City, who gambled that a season with the Thunder could entice George to sign and stay with them instead.
The Thunder’s gamble paid off, as 15 minutes before free agency commenced, the news leaked that George would indeed be staying in OKC, much to everyone’s shock. This caused anxiety in Los Angeles, and they wondered if LeBron would be reluctant to join a young core without an All-Star.
Though it was a long 18 hours later, in the end, the Lakers had nothing to worry about. Magic Johnson, Lakers President of Basketball Operations, got his man, with the announcement LeBron would be signing with Los Angeles.
With plenty of free agents still available, and more player movement expected via trades, the dust is far from settled on the rosters for the 2018/19 NBA season. However, the biggest chess piece has revealed his landing spot, and it will have ramifications across the league.
The Lakers do not, however, have enough talent right now to challenge for the title next season.
Though the addition of LeBron immediately places any team in the NBA’s elite echelon, the Warriors remain a standard that few can even hope to match. If LeBron wants more rings, the Lakers will need more talent around him to have any confidence of victory over Houston, Philadelphia, Boston, etc, let alone Golden State.
Given that George definitely won’t be coming, attention has now moved to the Lakers obtaining other stars. Namely, Kawhi Leonard.
Leonard has made it clear that he wants out of San Antonio, and to move to LA. The question is, with a year still to go on his contract, will the Spurs trade him to their nemesis, and if so, how much will they want from the Lakers?
More pertinently, how much do the Lakers want to give up? If Leonard wants to sign with LA in a year’s time, should the Lakers really give up young players like Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart? Or is it better to just wait it out, and have Kawhi join without giving up any assets?
Wait, or pounce now? It’s a dangerous game either way, as history has shown us the pitfalls of either strategy.
In 2011, with the trade deadline approaching, the Denver Nuggets’ Carmelo Anthony made it clear he intended to join the New York Knicks in the off-season. However, the Knicks got impatient, scared, worried – or all three – and traded four good young players, plus draft picks, to the Nuggets for Melo.
Though they were happy to get their man, and Melo eventually signed long-term with them, the gutting of their team meant the Knicks sacrificed any chance of being a true contender, as they had to give up so much to get him.
Conversely, if you wait, you run the risk of plans going awry. Things change quickly in the NBA, and 12 months is a very long time.
Look no further than the very recent history of the Oklahoma City scenario with Paul George. Everyone thought he was going to the Lakers, so Los Angeles was always hesitant to give up any assets in order to get him. That hesitancy gave the Thunder a season-long chance to convince Paul he should stay with them, and that’s exactly what happened.
So how badly do the Lakers want Kawhi? How much do they want to give up? Do they want to give up anything at all? Can the Spurs even be tempted with an offer anyway? How sure are the Lakers that Kawhi will still sign with them in 12 months’ time?
Can the Lakers risk the Spurs possibly salvaging their relationship with Kawhi, or another team making him feel welcome? Can the Lakers afford to essentially ‘waste’ a season of LeBron’s prime without another superstar? Are there other players the Lakers should look to sign?
Questions, questions, questions.
If you thought LeBron’s move to Los Angeles would equate to the end of the off-season speculation and rumours, along with sentences that start with the words “sources say”, you’re sorely mistaken.
If anything, things are just heating up.
However, one thing is for certain, and it’s sure to make any Lakers fan giddy with childlike excitement . . .
The King is coming to Hollywood.