BY FLINT WHEELER
The Los Angeles Lakers are not good. They’re not pretty at all, however, that may change rather quickly, and as early as this summer.
The prideful purple and gold walked into the 2017-18 season content with their complement of young guns and veteran role players. They then ran into injury, youthful inconsistency and, (duh), better teams.
They again finished below .500 but enter the offseason with far more assets than they boasted in half a decade. Forget the losses, because there are a lot of wins on those young legs. I know it. You know it. Paul George knows it.
Laker nation has done an admirable job at making do with little nibbles off the scrap heap of the free agent market. Until that fateful day when the front office strikes out on the best possible scenario, we will relish what that best possible scenario might be.
So sit back, crack a frosty one and close your eyes. These are the possible scenarios that could conceivably play out for the Lakers if fate decides to grant wishes.
The dream scenario really is all about Luol Deng. I imagine Rob Pelinka sleeps with a smile on his face anytime the image of dumping Deng’s $36 million on some other team prances between his ears.
In any case, getting rid of Deng isn’t as simple as keeping him in the Staples Center pantry as they have done so far.
A quick Google search tells me there aren’t a lot of teams with huge sums of projected cap space. We still won’t know fully until free agency begins and teams make decisions on personnel. It’s clear, however, that this isn’t the summer with a ton of buyers.
There just isn’t a market, as best I can tell, for a salary dump without including some of the Lakers assets. That would include, at the minimum, a future first-round pick and perhaps one of the young potential star in the making.
It seems more than likely that the Lakers go another year with Deng on the roster or stretch his current contract razor thin.
Forget King James, George or any other top-tier talent. You can boil the entirety of the Lakers’ Plan A down to moving Deng’s contract completely. Sadly, it has to remain a fantasy. Back in November the trade market for the 33-year-old was described as “non-existent,” according to Tilted Sports Media.
Get Kawhi Leonard
Let’s really get silly and add this fairy-tale scenario.
The Spurs have a unique dilemma with Kawhi Leonard, a player that may want an exit out of San Antonio and is one summer away from his player option.
Since we are playing fantasyland, let’s pretend the Spurs are interested in moving Leonard to a conference rival.
The price would presumably include Brandon Ingram if not Lonzo Ball. If you are wondering if Deng could be included, sure. As long as we’re playing best-possible, magical make-believe, you would presume the Spurs would take on a glut of the Lakers young talent along with its picks.
A fairy tale trade of Leonard and Bryn Forbes for Deng, Ingram and Kuzma does work on the books, for what it’s worth. The Lakers take on about $20.1 million while sending out $24.1 million the other way.
I bring up Deng again because the end game in any dream scenario is to hold onto Julius Randle, a player who broke out in the second half and promises to be a singular talent going forward.
Well, playing dream-scenario advocate, keeping Randle and getting max stars means having to move Deng.
So, whether you want your cake, Kawhi or Randle too, you have to dupe someone into a Deng swap.
If you do land Leonard in this remarkable hypothetical coup, you would have enough money on the books to get your once-in-a-lifetime King James talent.
But let’s go with the dream scenario B, which might be just as astounding as the above transactions.
Land The King and PG13
The Lakers have some options when free agency hits, but common wisdom puts their cap space at about $69 million.
That would be enough to sign James at about $35 million and George at about $30 million and leave a little over for reserves. Then again you could just have the concession workers suit up, because landing these two would make all the other roster spots superfluous.
This scenario would mean letting Randle walk and stretching Deng’s contract. So, again, the super-duper dreamy scenario is getting out from under Deng’s salary.
Even doing that might not be enough to keep Randle who I believe is a future multi-year all-star.
Success is close enough to smell yet too far to see clearly what the dish is made of. One thing’s for sure, the NBA, particularly Laker Land will be interesting this offseason.