LeBron James is taking his talents to Los Angeles. Unlike other star free agents in the past, LeBron made his decision early, as he is deciding to join the Lakers only about 27 hours after the NBA free agency moratorium period began at 12:01 on July 1st.
The contract is for 4 years and 154 million dollars, and it includes a player option going into year 4. So, the Lakers have control of LeBron for three years, assuming he opts out after year 3. Having LeBron under contract for three years allows the Lakers to go full-on title chasing. They’ve been waiting for LeBron ever since his first free agency, and now that he’s finally a Laker and Magic Johnson is running the show, expect the Lakers to be competing for a title next year.
Potential Moves for the Lakers
Minutes after LeBron announced his decision, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope re-signed for 12 millon dollars, which is a portion of his salary from last year. Including both James’ and Caldwell-Pope’s contracts and excluding Julius Randle’s cap hold, the Lakers are about 16 million dollars under the cap, even with Luol Deng on the books for $18,000,000 next season.
Sources: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope agreed to a one-year, $12M deal with the Lakers.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) July 2, 2018
There are a few directions the Lakers can go from here.
Sign Demarcus Cousins
Cousins will most likely be looking for a shorter contract, for his Achilles injury may scare teams away from throwing a 4-year max at the All-Star center. LeBron has always been very complementary of Cousins’ game, and coming to Los Angeles would give Cousins a chance to win a title, which he’d be more likely to do alongside LeBron James than in New Orleans. Signing Cousins would allow the Lakers to acquire a star and maintain the young talent on this roster.
DeMarcus Cousins sounds like an increasingly likely target for the Lakers on a short-term max contract now that it appears Los Angeles will lose out on Paul George, per league sources. In January 2017, LeBron James called Cousins "the best big man in our game."
— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) July 1, 2018
Trade for Kawhi Leonard
Reports earlier in the week stated that the Lakers weren’t pushing hard for Kawhi Leonard. But, now that James is headed to LA, expect that to change. The Lakers would have to give up 2/3 of Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball, and Brandon Ingram, and 1-2 first round picks. And, depending on how desperate the Spurs feel the Lakers are, the asking price could be even more.
But, if the Lakers want to win a title, Kawhi Leonard is a crucial piece. He’s arguably the best defensive, two-way, and “3-and-D” player in the NBA. And with Kawhi Leonard stating that he’d like to be in Los Angeles long-term, the risk in this trade doesn’t seem high for the Lakers, unlike when Paul George was traded to the Thunder last offseason. When Kawhi is healthy, he’s a top 3-4 player in the NBA, and the chance to acquire him would be deadly.
Sources: As trade talks have unfolded, Kawhi Leonard’s focus is unchanged: He wants to be a Laker. https://t.co/0wZGf5MrNt
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 2, 2018
Stick with the Young Guns
Brandon Ingram is entering his third season, while Kyle Kuzma and Lonzo Ball are entering their second seasons. All three showed tremendously poise and skill last year, as Kyle Kuzma shot onto the scene and averaged 16 points a game, Brandon Ingram did the same, and Lonzo Ball averaged 7 assists and 7 rebounds a game in his rookie season.
All three players are budding stars in the NBA, and with their projected development and the ability to play with LeBron, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see atleast two of them put up high-caliber starter/star numbers next season. And, with LeBron under contract for three years, it gives time for the young players to develop and learn under LeBron James.
What it means for the NBA
The conferences were already imbalanced this season, and now that the best player in the world is headed to the Western Conference, it just gets worse. Good teams who would be 4-5 seeds in the East will miss the playoffs in the West. The Western Conference finals will continue to be more competitive than the NBA Finals. LeBron signing with LA will force Adam Silver to think long and hard about how to even the conferences.
Let Free Agency Begin!
A lot of signings have taken place up until this point, but now that teams know where LeBron is going, expect everyone to be more active in free agency. Restricted Free Agents will start signing offer sheets, so the market for Aaron Gordon, Jabari Parker, Zach Lavine, and Clint Capela will be very competitive in the coming days.
The Most Popular Player in the Most Popular City
LeBron James, the best player in basketball, is joining the biggest market and arguably the most accomplished NBA franchise. This is the greatest day ever for the NBA (and the Lakers), and jerseys and tickets will be flying off the shelf. LeBron to Los Angeles will draw larger TV ratings on its own, but the fact that there’s another team in California that can compete with the Warriors will draw back many NBA fans who are tired of the Warriors’ dynasty.
What is Philly Going to Do?
This was the offseason for Philadelphia to try to sign LeBron James or Paul George, and they whiffed on both, even after meeting with James’ representatives this morning. If the 76ers don’t have James or George, trading for Kawhi Leonard might not be the best idea, especially if he’s not committed long-term. And, lets not forget, the 76ers don’t even have a General Manager right now. It’s still early in free agency, but the 76ers will have to use Plan B.
Paul George made a three-part documentary on ESPN where he publicly stated how he’d like to play for the Lakers. There is no better opportunity for him to join the Lakers than now. He passed on LeBron James and his hometown team to stay in Oklahoma City with Russell Westbrook. The Thunder are well in the Luxury Tax, and nothing will change from 2017-18’s team who was a first round exit. Any NBA analyst or fan has to be scratching their head at George’s motives…
Magic Johnson has a lot of pressure on him to assemble a team around LeBron James that can compete with the Warriors. But, acquiring LeBron is a good first step for the purple and gold.