The LeBron James MVP hype train has slowly been picking up speed as we near the end of the 2019-20 NBA regular season.
On Thursday, Anthony Davis announced that he will be waiving his US$4 million trade kicker.
Along with a trade sending Mo Wagner, Isaac Bonga and Jemerrio Jones to the Wizards as an extension of the Davis trade with New Orleans, the Lakers have now managed to create $32 million of cap space – almost exactly the amount required to sign a free agent to a maximum contract.
Davis was not expected to waive the $4.1 million owed to him, which looked likely to restrict the Lakers’ cap space to only $23 million. Not enough to sign a max contract but potentially enough to fill out the roster with serviceable veterans and role players.
The circumstances under which Durant knocked back $4 million are intriguing. Could it have something to do with his role in the upcoming Space Jam 2 film?
It is expected that the Lakers will now be pursuing one big-name star to team up with Davis and LeBron James to form a formidable big three. The Lakers will be setting their sights on guards and wing players.
Kyrie Irving appears to have agreed to a deal in principle with the Brooklyn Nets, but that was before the Lakers could afford him. Would he be willing to team up with LeBron again?
Davis is a significant upgrade over Kevin Love. Klay Thompson is rumoured to be open to meeting with the Lakers and Clippers should the Warriors not offer him his max contract.
Thompson is from Los Angeles and his father played for the Lakers. It could be an attractive fit for him. Although it is near impossible to imagine the Warriors not immediately making the max offer to Klay.
Kemba Walker is another intriguing player, having elevated his game again last season and being rewarded with an All NBA third team selection.
Walker has been in the league for eight seasons and is probably the league’s best case of a stranded star. Having not tasted much success with the Charlotte Hornets or been exposed to a big market, the Lakers might be the right fit for Walker.
If Kyrie Irving does indeed end up at the Nets, it will mean D’Angelo Russell becomes a free agent. The first time All-Star came into his own in 2019 and many are predicting this is only the beginning of a very successful career.
Ironically, the Lakers traded him away two years ago, attached to the terrible Timofey Mozgov contract to clear cap space that they now may be using on D’Angelo Russell.
Russell is far from proven and may not be the perfect fit alongside LeBron as a score-first point guard, but his youth safeguards against LeBron’s age and offers the Lakers a core of Russell and Davis for a very long time.
Kawhi Leonard is sure to be in the Lakers’ sights. The Southern Californian native has expressed interest in returning home and has been linked to the two LA franchises for over a year.
It is hard to imagine Leonard at the Lakers – it just doesn’t seem his style. He is more likely to go to the Clippers and run his own team or remain in Toronto than join up with LeBron.
The Philadelphia wing pairing of Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris will also be options, with Butler the more likely candidate. The Lakers should steer clear of Butler and his troublesome personality, and seeing if they could get Harris on a discount just below the max.
Harris showed he is an exceptionally skilled scorer in his time with the Clippers in 2018-19 but struggled in the crowded 76ers rotation at times. As a clear third option he could be an excellent fit with James and Davis, especially given his continuing all-round development and excellent outside shooting.
An issue for the Lakers moving forward will be that the team now only has three players under contract for the upcoming season – four if they recruit a max contract player.
This means the Lakers will need to bring in between eight and 11 players on veteran minimum contracts, or call up G League players. We saw how vulnerable the Warriors were when their lack of depth was exposed by injuries to Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson.
It may still be wise to split the money at least two if not three ways and bring in some reliable rotation players to fill out the final two starting spots before taking care of the bench with the mid-level exception and veteran contracts.
The Lakers will go for the biggest free agent they can get and back themselves to fill out the roster with ring-chasing veterans. The most likely candidates are Kemba Walker and Jimmy Butler.
Kemba is the better fit from a personality, positional and playing-style perspective, however Butler is the better player and has a larger profile.
The Lakers have thrown a huge cat amongst the pigeons in an attempt to bring showtime back to Hollywood and it should make for an entertaining free agency.