Heading into free agency, president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka established a two-year window.
While Plan A was to sign both LeBron James and Paul George, the latter ultimately re-signed with the Oklahoma City Thunder on a four-year, $137 million deal. It was later revealed the Indiana Pacers were willing to trade George to the Lakers for Brandon Ingram or the No. 2 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft.
As the Lakers filled out the remainder of their roster with one-year deals, they took another major step in establishing a max-contract slot for 2019 free agency by waiving Luol Deng via the stretch provision.
The Lakers can now offer a free-agent star a maximum contract in July to partner with LeBron James. The Lakers are targeting the top players in a potentially starry 2019 marketplace, including Toronto’s Kawhi Leonard, Golden State’s Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson and Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler.
Along with Kyrie Irving, all of these players are expected to become free agents and it comes as no surprise the Lakers will be pursuing them. While it difficult to see Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson leaving the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors, the others are reportedly options.
Even as the San Antonio Spurs traded Kawhi Leonard to the Toronto Raptors, the latest report has the Lakers having a ‘real chance’ to sign him in free agency. In addition, Jimmy Butler is reportedly ‘open’ to teaming up with James in Los Angeles.
For Johnson and Pelinka, they have turned the storied franchise around in less than two seasons. With James validating their vision, they have an opportunity to sign another All-Star player following the 2018-19 NBA season and have set themselves up for sustained success.