There has to be a reason the Los Angeles Lakers mortgaged their future to help the Cleveland Cavaliers. Trade rumors have followed Jordan Clarkson around much of last season and all of this one until he was finally dealt to the Cleveland Cavaliers along with Larry Nance Jr. While fans are raving about netting Isaiah Thomas, it’s what the future holds that has many worried.
The Lakers are tied to Hall of Fame players and All-Stars throughout their history. However, it’s the big names the Lakers have lacked for the past three seasons. Once Kobe Bryant retired, the Lakers were left searching for who would be next to carry the mantle. It was set to be passed down to D’Angelo Russell, but the Lakers sent him packing. That left Clarkson, Nance, and Brandon Ingram as the heirs, but two of them are gone. Lonzo Ball was that Lakers’ top pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, but his struggles may have prompted Rob Pelinka to make the move for Thomas.
With the trade and possible departures from high-priced players, the Lakers could have up to $70 million to spend on free agents in 2018. Big number, but was it worth it? Will the Los Angeles Lakers be better off with a ton of money or young talent?
Here is where the Lakers may have messed up by trading for Thomas.
Thomas is a free agent and may seek a max deal at the end of the season. It’s not a question of if he deserves one, but should the Lakers be the team to give it to him? Ball is the starting point guard, but there are whispers that Luke Walton may want to play both at the same time. If so, that will handicap the team on both ends of the floor. Thomas is a great scorer. He’s not much of a facilitator as his career 5.1 assists would suggest. However, by putting Thomas as the PG, that would force Ball to start at SG and for a player who’s shooting just 30 percent from three-point territory, this is a bad idea.
But what else are they to do? Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is not being paid $17 million to come off the bench. While analysts will say the trade was done for cap room, how much of a difference would it have been if the trade wasn’t made? Clarkson was signed until 2020 with a per of $12.4 million. Nance, still on his rookie deal until 2019 was set at $1.5 million. What fans are banking on is the Lakers letting Randle, Caldwell-Pope, and Lopez walk out the door. Makes sense, but not for a team building towards the future.
According to Bleacher Report, the Lakers could go after two max players this offseason. That’s good, but what two players? Paul George is on his way to the playoffs while playing with Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony. Lebron James, we’ve seen is not one to hold hands of a young rebuilding team when the likes of the Houston Rockets or San Antonio Spurs are out there with veteran talent.
The Los Angeles Lakers will enter the 2018 free agent period with nothing but prayers. The trade with the Cavaliers gave the Lakers nothing in value but a first rounder in 2018 that they didn’t have. Thomas could be gone if he’s not the starter. Randle could walk as well as Pope and Lopez, leaving the Lakers with tons of cap space but no one to take it. If a trade was their only option, why not trade the players with higher value and keep their young core together? This is what the Philadelphia 76ers have done so well over the last three years. It’s been tough on the organization, however, the results are finally starting to show.
It’s not always about the big names. Look at the Cavaliers. That’s a team that had LeBron, Kevin Love, and Thomas, yet they were in danger of missing the playoffs this season. What the Lakers did was make them a little stronger while crippling themselves in the process. Will LeBron head to the Lakers in 2018? That’s a tough question to answer.
What if Thomas wants to stay? I can’t see LeBron heading to Los Angeles if Thomas is a part of that team. So once again, what did this trade really accomplish if not for more confusion on their direction? Johnson and Pelinka for all their experience in the NBA world are struggling to run the team along with Jeanie Buss.
The future was set for the Lakers to build through the draft. But desperation and images of past success may have hindered their chances and set the team back at least two seasons.