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Your 2018-19 Lakers: LeBron and the Kids

July 19th, 2018 · No Comments · Basketball, Lakers, NBA

Hmm. Not sure it was supposed to work out like this.

Well, then again, maybe it was, once unrestricted free agent Paul George re-signed with Oklahoma City.

If the Lakers were intent on providing LeBron James with a superstar-level wing man for his debut season in Los Angeles, and they were trying, it was going to have to be a free agent.

Otherwise, it was going to cost them some of their rising stars and maybe a draft pick or two.

Rising stars? Talking Brandon Ingram. Lonzo Ball. Kyle Kuzma. Josh Hart. Some multiple of those four would have disappeared, in a world where the Lakers had to make a trade for, say, Kawhi Leonard.

Leonard was traded to the Toronto Raptors yesterday, with San Antonio getting DeMar DeRozan and a first-round draft pick.

And that cuts short the notion that the Lakers can climb right back into contention for a championship … even with LeBron on the team.

And maybe that is for the good.

The Lakers had to love the fact that Kawhi Leonard so clearly wanted out of San Antonio and into Los Angeles.

But Leonard has a year remaining on his contract, so to get him right this minute would cost the Lakers something. Perhaps not the king’s ransom the Spurs seemed to think was in store, but the Lakers would have lost one or two guys who might be really handy, over the next decade.

And, remember, as well as Leonard played in 2013-14, 2015-16 and 2016-17, he was one big question mark this summer. He played only nine games for San Antonio last season, due to that semi-mysterious and lingering quadriceps injury.

The Lakers were looking at a trade market in which they would have no real way to know how far toward recovery Leonard has gotten. Maybe he is as good as new. Maybe he is something significantly less.

Getting LeBron, a big deal. No question. But even with LBJ in town, the Lakers have enough assets only for one more big move — Leonard this summer, or Leonard as a free agent next summer — or some other guys who might be available then, like Jimmy Butler or Kevin Love.

So they did not want to make a mistake. Barring some sort of behind-the-scenes visual assurances that Leonard can return to being the player he was, trading for him was one huge craps shoot.

So, that gives the Lakers LeBron, who will turn 34 during the season, and the four children (Ingram 21 this season, Ball 21, Kuzma 23, Hart 25) … and some combination of semi-sketchy veterans, including Rajon Rondo, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, JaVale McGee, Lance Stephenson …

This is a team that ought to win more games than it loses, for the first time in six seasons, and a winning record ought to be good for a playoffs spot.

But getting out of the first round? Seems unlikely, even if LeBron plays 48 minutes every night until elimination.

Instead, it is a season for appreciating LBJ — while making a point not to overwork him — and gauging the growth of the young guys. Who include rookie center Moritz Wagner.

A year from now, if a free-agent Kawhi Leonard has shown he can still play the game, and hasn’t developed some strange and sudden preference for Toronto (after all, Paul George was headed for Staples, only to re-up with OKC) … the Lakers can consider making cap space to sign the SoCal native.

At least, the Lakers have some closure. They and their fans now know what this season is about: Returning to the playoffs and regaining some of the dignity and respect for the franchise. That will feel pretty nice, after the past half-decade.



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