- The Lakers have had one of the most peculiar offseasons in recent memory. Can a roster stocked with players on short-term deals and a young core possibly contend in the West?
What are the Lakers doing? Objectively, Los Angeles has enjoyed one of the more mercurial offseasons in recent NBA history. We have enjoyed it with them. Signing LeBron James was one thing. It’s the whole "assembling an increasingly bizarre cast of characters around him" part that’s made this a more complicated question than anyone expected. For the sake of discussion, as free agency winds down and the dead of August approaches, here’s an answer to that question, in five parts.
1. Setting the Internet on Fire
No matter what actually happens on the court this season, the 2018-19 Los Angeles Lakers are here to create content. Their offseason additions have been as follows: the best player in the world (LeBron James), the best Connect Four player in the world (Rajon Rondo), a surprisingly useful piece of the team that just won back-to-back titles (JaVale McGee), a guy who can purportedly use 11% of his brain (Michael Beasley) and Lance Stephenson (Lance Stephenson).
Among the returning parts from last year’s team: currently-injured Internet sensation Lonzo Ball, 2018 Summer League MVP Josh Hart, still-promising Brandon Ingram, also-promising Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell Pope, who is conveniently repped by Rich Paul. They drafted Mo Wagner, Isaac Bonga and Svi Mykhailiuk, none of whom would have to play much this season in a perfect world. Imagine all these people and personalities in one locker room, and you have a recipe for … something.
2. Creatively Stalling
While nothing says "we’re gonna go win a title" like signing LeBron, nothing says "we’re preserving our cap space to throw big bags at every marquee free agent next year" more than signing a wide smattering of players to one-year contracts. From a basketball standpoint, this is the neatest explanation for what the Lakers are doing. As it stands, Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson, DeMarcus Cousins, DeAndre Jordan and Kemba Walker will all be free agents next season. Adding one or two of those guys is an inarguably faster pathway to getting LeBron a title.
In other words, this team is not built to last in any way, shape or form. Ball or Ingram could still get flipped for an established star. The only player truly tied down long term is James. There are so many odd lineup combinations, so many ways things could combust, and very few convincing scenarios where things work. We’ve seen LeBron carry entire teams on his back before, but he’s 33 years old. So enjoy this group while you can.
3. Throwing Stuff at the Wall
Cutting through the zany narratives for a second, there’s absolutely no guarantee any of these new players will mesh well together on the court. There’s probably not enough three-point shooting, definitely not enough defense and way too many wild-card factors to think this group will be any better than the patchwork, hastily reconfigured Cavs team that LeBron dragged to the Finals last season.
The Lakers probably aren’t winning a title in the West with this group, and should give tons of minutes to their younger guys, who will benefit from playing next to LeBron. But if the public impetus is to win as many games as possible, the rotations and chemistry could get complicated. Don’t forget Dwyane Wade, noted friend of LeBron is a free agent. Luke Walton has his hands full no matter what.
4. Accelerating LeBron’s Hair Loss
If you thought LeBron was frustrated last season—and if you believe that he really wanted teammates with higher basketball IQs—then you haven’t seen anything yet. The structural issues are already pretty obvious, and for the most part anything the Lakers showed as a unit last season can be thrown out the window. LeBron leaving J.R. Smith in Cleveland to play with Lance, JaVale and Beasley is an impeccably rich twist.
All things considered, the Lakers did a fairly good job of adding experience and talent on cheap deals to bide their time, and don’t necessarily deserve to be castigated if this breaks bad. There were only so many ways to stay flexible, and only so many players willing to agree to short-term money. L.A. wasn’t enticing any young, promising players to sign team-friendly deals when their immediate future hinges on flexibility. Whatever happens next will be a short-term, but no less unpredictable patch job. It’s also a convenient excuse if and when LeBron’s Finals streak comes to a close.
5. Creating Must-See Television
Whether it’s documented by LeBron via Uninterrupted, a particularly dark online season of Ball in the Family, or the best possible setup for the convoluted plot of Space Jam 2, everyone is going to watch the Lakers closely this season. The Cavs were dramatic enough for four seasons, and there are endlessly more multipliers and interpersonal dynamics that will make this hard to tear your eyes away from. LaVar Ball will probably show up. The only thing more interesting than watching James deal with his new teammates will be observing Rondo’s already dwindling levels of patience. It’s genuinely an interesting experiment. Just don’t forget LeBron already starred in one Hollywood Trainwreck.