The hotline is open for Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka to make their pitch to top free agents. And therefore, they are a phone call away from wooing LeBron James and Paul George to ink their signatures on a contract next summer with the Lakers.
Nothing, quite frankly, states the obvious when the front office, not hesitant to make moves for the betterment of the franchise, sent Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson to Cleveland in exchange for Isaiah Thomas, veteran Channing Frye and Cleveland’s first-round draft pick in 2018.
Meet the newest addition to the Lakers family. It’s not hard to believe he’s moving out of LeBron’s broken home for a dream house in L.A., with famed rookie Lonzo Ball after Thomas was traded to Cleveland as part of the Celtics blockbuster trade six months ago. Even when he told reporters on Wednesday night that he wanted to stay in Cleveland and had no desire to be part of a trade for the fourth time in his career, obviously Thomas was tradeable, not indispensable to a struggling Cavaliers team.
In a stunning development, hours before Thursday’s trade deadline, he’s suddenly on the move again to play for the Lakers and instantly stands out as a flashy guard with star-studded talent. Already, the organization, a delusional fan base and a basketball-crazed town have shone the Hollywood spotlight on Lil Isaiah. But as in any business, the Lakers decided to clear cap space in hopes of luring potentially two top free agents to join the glamorous franchise and form a Showtime Superteam.
It may come as somewhat of a surprise, but it was a bit expected of the Lakers to sell two of their young players for the acquisition of a superstar with an expiring contract. Rumors floated around for the last week that multiple teams had reportedly made offers for Clarkson and Julius Randle.
Amid a turbulent period in the history of a fabled franchise, Johnson, a shrewd businessman and a true visionary, presides over the operations of Lakers basketball. He took after his mentor, Jerry Buss, who owned the team until his death five years ago and left the franchise to his children.
The idea of this move for the purple and gold, mind you, should facilitate the team’s building efforts and attract top-notched talent this offseason. If the Lakers can wheedle, let’s say, James and George into coming to L.A., two All-Star-caliber players, they’d return to normalcy and earn every ounce of respect with a new-look team that features a three-time champion crowned king and a formidable knight from Palmdale, a small-town north of Los Angeles.
Out of contention for several years, these Lakers created financial flexibility for big moves in free agency this summer, with absolute certainty that they will once again turn into a serious contender in the wild, wild west and perpetuate the memories of a certain mystique that still surrounds them. They’re planning to enter the James and George sweepstakes once the NBA season ends after clearing out enough space and making room to accommodate at least two max players.
There’s probably no reason to worry about the loss of Clarkson, who was once part of the team’s future arrangements. Considering that the Lakers dumped the $26 million left on Clarkson’s long-term contract, it’s one less headache and they no longer have to write out a hefty paycheck for a sixth man, although he began to settle in his role, look sharp and produce off the bench.
In pursuit of yet a superhero and a sidekick, hoping to bestow his team with superpowers, Magic conceives a master plan for the overhaul of the Lakers. A year from now, since he’s working with Jeanie Buss and drawing up a blueprint, maybe James or, if not him, maybe George will become a Laker. As his name shows, Johnson is a wizard, genius by nature, working his magic on a flowering Lakers team in desperate need of a transformational player.
Much has changed about the Lakers ever since Magic pushed Jim Buss, Jeanie’s brother, out the door a year ago. By taking over the business side, running it smoothly and wisely, Magic is essentially rebuilding the foundation. Though, with him having confidence the team will manage to sign two max-level players, the Lakers could lose the bidding war even if they draw interest in James and George and have the money stacked on the table to generously invest in two superlative ballers who will be available this July.
They could schedule a meeting with them, treat them to a fancy dinner at a fine restaurant in L.A, and make a big play for them, but it doesn’t guarantee the Lakers will make a big splash. They will use the money to remodel the house that needs more than a quick fix.
Even though he’s a SoCal native who grew up a Lakers fan, especially now that he’s heating up in Oklahoma City, George may decide to align himself with Russell Westbrook long term. He may love the sunny skies of L.A. and the idea of going home, but he wants to stay in the Midwest if the Thunder can contend for a championship.
Once known for mainly acquiring widely acclaimed stars during offseason or mid-season trades, or signing big-name free agents, these star players in the past few seasons haven’t been sold on the great weather or fascinated with purchasing a seaside home along the shores of a nearby Southern California beach. Once known for maintaining a certain kind of cachet, Johnson has taken on a challenging role of resurrecting a franchise he’d led to five NBA champions as a player.
Much talk has diminished about James becoming a part of the Lakers, largely because of his reluctance to potentially sign with them without a noteworthy star joining him. It’s also believed that he will stay away from Lonzo’s obnoxious and overbearing father. This may also explain why the Lakers could perhaps have the hardest time attracting marquee players.
Besides LaVar Ball negatively affecting free agency which may have turned off a list of names in this free-agent class, they have an abundance of raw talent on the radar with surprise rookie Kyle Kuzma and second-year forward Brandon Ingram.
They’re making a run, making a business decision to end a great deal of unspeakable anguish much sooner than expected. It was unquestionably a smart move for the Lakers to get rid of massive salaries, instantly leaving them with a projected $47 million in room. If they don’t bring back Randle and stretch the $37M owed to Luol Deng over 5 years, then they’ll have $69 million, more than enough to build an empire.
And since the Lakers are no longer forking over the dough, they have a significant amount of money to spend on this year’s free-agent class. This is a business, and sometimes it can be cruel, in a profession where players come and go and where coaches come and go as well, if they don’t meet the team’s expectations. It was obviously in their best interest to welcome Thomas on board and change the culture for the basketball franchise.
Still, there’s not a certainty the Lakers bring him back next season, even if he’s content with his current move to the West Coast. When he was growing up in Tacoma, Wash., Thomas’ father, James, was an ardent Lakers fan and persuasively influenced his son’s basketball fandom. So now he’s sorta, kinda at home, playing for the Dream Team with Magic calling the shots.
And, so far, Johnson is not banking them. He’s swooshing them and soon will be calling bank if he bids higher than other potential landing spots to considerably win the services of free agents testing the market. If the Lakers miss out on James, George or DeMarcus Cousins, they could wait until the summer of 2019, if Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler and Kyrie Irving become free agents.
The Lakers are distinguished by their world stature derived from their continuity and enduring dynasties. This past history of the club’s dominance and greatness dates back to the Shaq and Kobe age, then the Showtime Era, two distinctive and remarkable timelines that were priceless and never to be forgotten.
There was a time when, not long ago, Jim Buss, Jerry’s son, dismantled a proud organization he inherited from his late father instead of honoring it. These days Magic is revitalizing a delighted franchise as the primary decision maker with a clear vision on which direction he wishes to take the team and has vowed a renewed sense of optimism.