The Los Angeles Lakers’ front office might have been overheard saying on Friday night, “Wait. That’s not how things were supposed to pan out.”
Team president Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka can be forgiven for being blindsided by the latest blockbuster trade, as most NBA insiders seemed baffled by the Indiana Pacers’ decision to trade Paul George to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. George, who will be teaming up with MVP Russell Westbrook, had been linked to the Lakers, Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers but there were no reports that the Thunder had any interest in pulling the trigger on arguably the most coveted player on the trade block.
Both George and Westbrook were considered top free-agent targets for the Lakers in the summer of 2018, but now things seem a bit derailed. Oklahoma doesn’t have state income tax, can offer George a massive contract extension and Westbrook may remain keen to stick around again after re-signing following Kevin Durant bolting to Oakland last year. Now with George on the team, it’s quite possible that the “super team” that the Lakers were trying to piece together may be taking place in the Sooner state instead of Hollywood.
So now what?
It may not be a back-to-the-drawing-board moment for the Lakers. Johnson and Pelinka have expressed more of an interest in signing George as a free agent rather than surrendering assets to get him. George has also maintained that he wants to play for the Lakers and if there is any sort of a special friendship between George and his fellow Southern California native Westbrook they’ve kept it quiet. But now the idea of both George and Westbrook leaving Oklahoma City for Los Angeles comes off a bit far-fetched.
Meanwhile, sources told insider Adrian Wojnarowski that the Lakers have had talks with Andre Iguodala and Rajon Rondo. Neither Iguodala nor Rondo is seen as a key difference maker, but both represent an injection of experience on a roster loaded with youth.
With the addition of veteran big man Brook Lopez and without a first-round draft pick, the Lakers may look at the 2017-18 season as an opportunity to make a serious push at playoff berth to perhaps entice potential free agents. Some might feel that Iguodala, who played under head coach Luke Walton in Golden State, and Rondo, whose play drew positive reviews from Kobe Bryant, would bring stability to the team. Possibly ending the playoff drought might also be a good way to convince a free agent that the Lakers have effectively shed their recent reputation for underachieving with a mismatched roster.
Johnson and Pelinka are undoubtedly aware that the Lakers lack a legitimate go-to guy, and the only way to fix the issue is by landing a top free agent. The Lakers still have plenty of cap space to sign two free agents to maximum contracts.
It’s also possible that the Lakers still have dreams of luring LeBron James with one of those max contracts as opposed to George or Westbrook. While it may seem far-fetched to land James, there has been speculation that his wife is interested in moving to Los Angeles full-time and James may want to spend his final NBA years in a city that is home to his production company SpringHill Entertainment.