The Lakers will play their final game of the 2017-18 NBA season Wednesday night against the Clippers, and it is for certain that the next time Los Angeles takes the floor that the roster will look vastly different. Instead of Alex Caruso and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope starting at the wings, it’s looking more certain than ever that LeBron James and Paul George will be there on S Figueroa instead. The Lakers showed just enough this season with their young core of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma to be able to convince LeBron and George that the Staples Center is not barren of talent. More importantly, the Lakers will have nearly $50 million (possibly $70 million by the time July rolls around) to play with in NBA free agency – enough to land both LeBron and George.
LeBron’s camp (i.e. Maverick Carter) has maintained that LeBron will go where he has the best opportunity to win a championship. And as crazy as it seems right now, that place is LA.
The Lakers are the only team that will be coveting LeBron this summer that can place him next to George in 2018-19. LeBron only wants to play with championship-level ready veterans (remember the Kevin Love – Andrew Wiggins trade in 2014), and that’s why the Sixers should be ruled out. Ben Simmons will only be 22 when the 2017-18 season starts, and Joel Embiid will only be 24. George – meanwhile - will be 28, and ready to roll.
The Lakers also wouldn’t be afraid to cater to LeBron’s wants in that they would trade Ball, Ingram or anyone on their roster in exchange for a LeBron-approved veteran. Philly, in love with the blossoming of Simmons and Embiid, would be hesitant to trade away any of their homegrown players.
Houston remains doubtful too because every offense LeBron has every played in runs through him. With the Rockets, James Harden would need to start every possession with the basketball. Plus, Houston will not have nearly the amount of cap space to compete with the Lakers.
It starts with George
As for the first domino the LeBron to the Lakers scenario, Paul George will surely hightail it out of Oklahoma City this summer to go to his hometown team. It is George’s dream to play with the Lakers, he can get just as much money – if not more – with the Purple and Gold, and they can offer George a better chance to win.
The Thunder just barely made the playoffs this season, and are nowhere near on a level to be able to compete with Golden State or Houston.
George is saying all the right things as OKC gets ready to enter the postseason, but when the Thunder are likely eliminated from the playoffs by the end of April – he will surely reassess the situation.
“I’m not going to let the playoffs or how we finish this season persuade or indicate where I’m going this offseason,” George told ESPN last week. “This is our first year together. This is year one for this group. We’ve got a chance to win it all, but realistically it takes time for things to build and chemistry to mesh.”
George’s agent Aaron Mintz will surely tell his client he is wrong about this, of course. There are plenty of examples over the years of superstar teams being thrown together and succeeding immediately (the 2008 Celtics won the title, LeBron went to the Finals in his first year in Miami, Houston has been tremendous this season). The Westbrook – George – Carmelo threesome has been OK, but far from championship material, and Mintz will certainly push his client to go home.