The Los Angeles Lakers are apparently looking at the bigger picture as it pertains to their rebuilding project.
Sources confirmed to ESPN‘s Ramona Shelburne and Adrian Wojnarowski that Los Angeles is reportedly shifting its focus from the 2018 free agency class to the 2019 class, which includes San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard, Golden State’s Klay Thomspon and Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler.
Initially, the Lakers seemed to be making salary moves to clear cap space for two potential max contracts heading into the upcoming free agency period, which includes Cleveland’s LeBron James, Oklahoma City’s Paul George and New Orleans’ Demarcus Cousins.
While the franchise could still pursue all three players, recent factors have led to a possible change in plans.
Cousins is currently dealing with a torn Achilles tendon. George, a SoCal native who many believed would sign with Los Angeles after the 2017-18 season, has suggested to ESPN’s Rachel Nichols that Oklahoma City has an advantage in re-signing him. James is reportedly only interested in joining the Lakers if he can do so with an established star, rather than the young talent that currently makes up the team’s nucleus.
But that same roster could me more enticing for an elite player during the next free agency period with the likes of Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart having an additional season to develop in 2018-19.
The free agency plan could also have a major short-term impact, with Los Angeles being less inclined to unload contracts during Thursday’s trade deadline. Former lottery pick Julius Randle — who will be a free agent next season — and backup guard Jordan Clarkson — who is owed $25.9 million during the next two seasons — were rumored to be on the trading block leading up to the deadline, according to ESPN’s report.
However, both players have improved during the past month, with Clarkson averaging 15.9 points and a 46 percent from the field, while Randle has scored 15.3 points and nine rebounds per game since reclaiming his starting role.
The Lakers, who currently rank 11th in the Western Conference, have won 10 of their last 14 games, which included a five-game winning streak, an 11-day road trip and 10 games without Ball, the team’s first-round draft pick and starting point guard.
That stretch is the best the franchise has had since 2013, which obviously brings plenty of optimism that the rebuilding project is starting to take shape.