According to Sam Amic and Jovan Boha of The Athletic, the Los Angeles Lakers are gearing up for free agency for 2023, having apparently decided not to give up on a critical capital project to revive Russell Westbrook.
While an overall plan, seen from the long-term streak, is the right approach to team building, banking on free agency in the NBA market as more and more players sign up to extension rather than test their own market, appears restrictive.
The original premise of free agency was a large pool of players finally freed from their contractual obligations, but in recent years star players have mostly opted for contract extensions, later making their way to a new team via trade, rather than outright signing. With a team of their own.
Ironically, the Lakers themselves have evidence of this practice with Anthony Davis on their roster, who forced himself out of New Orleans to join them.
For any banking team heavy on free agency, there should be an understanding that the road is significantly less attractive in the NBA today than it was just five years ago.
kyrie irving plan
LeBron James’ former teammate Kyrie Irving is already set to become a free agent next year, and is said to be on the Lakers’ radar. The All-Star was rumored to have been to the Lakers for months during the holiday period before committing to the Brooklyn Nets for the final year of his contract.
Irving, who has seen his market value drop dramatically in recent years, recently shared conspiracy theories from controversial right-wing critic Alex Jones via social media, which haven’t helped restore his reputation among NBA fans.
It’s fair to wonder if Irving could even get the high salary his in-court production indicates because of the questions surrounding him out of court. The Lakers, if they showed Irving the full extent of their cover space – believed to be in the $30-35 million range – could be a miscalculation on their part, especially if no one else has identified himself.
Moreover, it is also fair to ask if Irving’s signing in 2023 replaces one problem with another. While Irving is undoubtedly the best player between him and Westbrook, he does come with baggage. Media attention alone could cause a major distraction for a long season, and there are no guarantees Irving and James will keep the hatchet buried. Things fell apart in Cleveland for a reason.
There are no alternatives
By far the biggest issue is the aforementioned change in the behavior of stars, when it comes to signing extensions.
If the Lakers are relying on maximum space to solve most of their concerns, and the market turns out to be dry within a year, that forces them to get into a situation where they need to consider the possibility of giving up the venture capital to get contract players. Its available ceiling space, thus losing assets in the process.
Granted, the Lakers are still Lakers. They’re playing in the hottest market in the NBA, and they’re somehow regressing to the stars without doing much of anything. An example is the current co-stars of James and Davis. In 2018, while he wasn’t going anywhere, James himself decided the Lakers were the place for him, and Davis – as mentioned above – pushed his way out of New Orleans, specifically targeting Los Angeles.
The overwhelming question now is: Do the Lakers still have a similar allure given that James is nearing 38, and Davis has proven unable to be healthy for longer periods?
The Lakers’ free agency plans depend heavily on the answer to this question. If they misread the market, and the major players dismiss them, it would be better for them to try their luck than to play the free agency game, relying on the assumption that they had the same allure as a few years ago.
At least with teams like Oklahoma City and Utah, they’re proactively prepping the situation by loading up on draft picks. Or, in the case of Cleveland, they demonstrated a strong sense of timing in implementing the Donovan Mitchell deal.
The Lakers clearly don’t have the same amount of assets to pull something like this, but nonetheless, they routinely drop their names to help them out of trying times. At some point – perhaps soon – this strategy will not be enough. Especially in a league where cover manipulation and innovation are the path to success.
It might be time for the Lakers to plan for more than just a free agency.
Unless otherwise noted, all stats via NBA.comAnd the PBPStatsAnd the cleaning the glasses or Basketball reference. All salary information via Spotrac. All possibilities via FanDuel Sportsbook.