The Los Angeles Lakers went into this summer thinking that they could land one of the top free agents available, but the exact opposite happened. No one with the label of “Superstar” came to Lakers. Sure Carmelo Anthony had the Lakers in his top three potential destinations, but he had his mind made up and went back to New York. And LeBron James simply didn’t give the Lakers the time of day. So, the Lakers struck out instead of striking gold. The rumors of a potential James and Anthony union in the purple and gold along with Kobe Bryant were exciting, and had every Lakers fan dreaming of a potential dynasty. That’s all it was for the fans, and for Lakers management. Nothing but a dream. This off-season has resulted in the Lakers making uneventful moves that show they are just bringing in players who could potentially become valuable assets.
Acquiring a star player has never been easy to do. Despite the Lakers past success of acquiring star talent and elevating them into superstars, the Lakers have gone in an opposite direction of mediocrity. And no superstar wants to be a part of a mediocre team with no coach or direction. Not every team is going go after superstars, but the Lakers have made it known that they are driven by star power. They will aim for the stars and settle for consolation prizes until they get their man, whoever that may be. Even if it means wasting Kobe’s last two years. It’s sad, but appears to be true.
A number of reasons can be thrown out there for the team’s failure over the last few years, but this summer was a big one for the Lakers. They were supposed to get someone who was proven and could carry the torch after Kobe, they did in fact do that, but it was through the draft lottery. A place where the Lakers haven’t been in some time. Drafting Julius Randle with the seventh pick was clearly the best move by the Lakers this off-season. They have turned into an asset grabbing team that is also trying to stay competitive. Getting a cornerstone piece like Julius Randle is only the first of many that the Lakers will have to make in order to return to relevance.
Randle is a cornerstone piece for the Lakers going forward, but big name free agents weren’t interested in playing with an unproven rookie and an aging Kobe Bryant. Kobe of course has his flaws as a teammate, but beyond him and Randle, the Lakers couldn’t sell the top free agents on playing with theses two. There was no kind of foundation in place, and that is something that the Lakers are going to have to establish in the next few years.
Having no foundation resulted in the Lakers signing nothing but second tier free agents to short-term deals. Jordan Hill, Ed Davis, and Nick Young are OK signings to go along with recently amnestied Carlos Boozer, but they are not going to elevate the Lakers into title contenders. Trading for Jeremy Lin‘s expiring contract that came along with a first and second round draft pick for next year proved that management is in the asset gaining business for the time being. All of these guys, except Nick Young are on short-term deals. Giving the Lakers breathing room and potential trade chips.
The Lakers are going to have to play chess instead of playing checkers in order to build a championship team again, and these moves prove that. They may surprise us all with great seasons and a postseason birth, but championship aspirations are kind of a mirage right now for the current roster.
Having championship aspirations at this time is a bit much to ask from this group of Lakers, but it isn’t impossible to at least contend for a playoff spot. The Lakers could surprise everyone and could be this years Phoenix Suns. A team that’s young, well coached, and plays hard every night. The San Antonio Spurs model is a bit of a reach for the Lakers at this point, but following what the Suns did last season should be the goal. That kind of team could land a superstar or two willingly without having to give up too much in a trade. But then again, this is the Lakers, if they have the trade chips they will not hesitate to pull the trigger.
The team is going into the season with enough assets and flexibility to make another run next summer, and possibly at the trade deadline in February. Instant success isn’t going to happen for the Lakers now. They are clearly in the dog house right now, and management has to shake that persona off. Dwight Howard clearly sent a message to the entire NBA, that the Lakers are not that viable option when it comes to winning now. It’s up to management to erase that and surround Kobe with assets in the mean time, as the search for the next superstar continues.
Winning the off-season, was the goal for the Lakers, but instead they struck out. But they have been in this position before, and ended up with the best big man at the time not named Tim Duncan or Kevin Garnett. That player was Pau Gasol. The Lakers had a surplus of assets and draft picks back in the 2007-2008 season, and they cashed in with Pau Gasol. The trade helped them get to three straight NBA Finals, and made every NBA Genearal Manager cringe and cry wolf. That is what the Lakers have to do again in order to regain their élite status. A move like that will take time along with a vast amount of patience.
Striking out this summer may work out in the long-term. Who knows, Mitch Kupchak may have a big move brewing, but now is not the time to strike and he knows it. The Lakers had to gain assets this summer, and sign every player to short-term deals to make them easier to move in a potential trade and to preserve cap space for the coming years. Those should have been the initial goals for this summer. but they did try to land Kobe a side kick it simply didn’t work out.
Having an uneventful off-season isn’t the end of the world for the Lakers going forward. This will only create more of a buzz because the Lakers are a franchise that doesn’t take losing too lightly, and will strike when the time is right. Going into a full rebuild is something the Lakers seem to be avoiding for the time being, but reloading is also going to take time.Management still has a lot to prove, but they are being patient until they are able to land the Superstar they want.
Gaining assets in the mean time, should be the only goal for the Lakers as they continue to build for the future in a unique and puzzling way. Who knows, maybe the Lakers will pull off a move that no will foresee, and find themselves right back in the title hunt because that’s what valuable assets can do for a franchise like the Los Angeles Lakers.