LeBron James’ first year with the Los Angeles Lakers has been nothing short of a complete disaster. The superstar is about to miss the playoffs for the first time in 14 years after suffering a career-worst injury and playing with a poorly constructed roster.
Team president Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka failed to surround James with players that complement his skillset after they were unable to sign another All-Star in free agency. The Lakers tried to add a second star before the trade deadline when Anthony Davis became available, but all their discussions with the New Orleans Pelicans did was disrupt any chemistry the team might’ve had.
Los Angeles will ramp up their pursuit of a second star this summer. The team has the salary cap space to sign another max contract free agent, and Davis will be available, once again.
New Orleans had no interest in sending Davis to L.A. in February, and that might not change in June and July. Kyrie Irving will be on the Lakers’ radar, though there might be a better chance that he re-signs with the Boston Celtics or goes to New York. Top free agents like Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson are favored to sign elsewhere.
There’s a strong possibility that the Lakers won’t be able to acquire Davis or any of the perennial All-Stars that will hit the open market this offseason.
Who should Los Angeles target if that happens?
Walker should be the only player that gets a max contract offer from the Lakers if Durant, Leonard, Irving and Thompson come off the board. Giving the injury-prone and perpetually unhappy Jimmy Butler a four-year, max offer would probably turn out to be a mistake. Tobias Harris and Khris Middleton are nice players, but they are borderline All-Stars that will likely get heavily overpaid this summer.
It isn’t just that Walker is having the best year of his career while making three straight All-Star teams. He’s a perfect guard to play alongside James. We’ve already seen James and Irving win a title together, and Walker might be the closest thing to Irving when taking a look at the rest of the league. The point guard can take some of the scoring load off James, as well as knock down threes when James is orchestrating the offense.
Maybe Walker will re-sign with the Charlotte Hornets, but Los Angeles would be wise to pounce if the 28-year-old doesn’t get a five-year, max offer from his current team.
This all depends on what Leonard decides to do this summer. There’s a chance that the Toronto Raptors will reach the 2019 NBA Finals, leading the star forward to re-sign with the team that acquired him from the San Antonio Spurs last summer. There are even greater odds that Leonard will leave in free agency—likely for the Los Angeles Clippers—and you can bet Lowry will become available if that’s the case.
Toronto almost certainly traded for Leonard with the idea of rebuilding if he goes to another team in the offseason. That rebuild would start with dealing Lowry, who is still a borderline All-Star and set to make more than $33 million in the final year of his contract. Lowry isn’t the scorer that Irving and Walker are, but he’s shot at least 38.8 percent from three-point range in three of the last four years and is averaging a career-high 9.1 assists per game this season.
Los Angeles wouldn’t face the problems they had with New Orleans when dealing with Toronto. A package centered on Lonzo Ball and another young player might be enough to land an impactful veteran that’s signed for one more year.
The Washington Wizards haven’t been eager to trade Beal, despite the year-long injury to John Wall and the team’s clear need to shake things up. Maybe that will change after Washington misses the playoffs in a bad Eastern Conference. There was speculation earlier in the season that the Lakers might try to pry Beal from the Wizards, and Los Angeles has a real chance to be able to make Washington a compelling offer this summer.
Ingram’s trade value isn’t what it once was because of the blood clot that ended his season, but the Lakers’ 2019 first-round draft can become very appealing to other teams. Missing the playoffs means L.A. will be in the lottery for the most highly touted prospect in at least seven years, and their odds of getting a top pick are increasing by the day. The Lakers are only a game out of the No.10 slot, which has about a 14 percent chance to get a top-four pick.
Emerging as a top shooting guard in the absence of Wall, Beal would thrive playing alongside James. The Lakers could do a lot worse than an offseason that includes signing a second-tier free agent and trading a few first-rounders and young players for Beal.