While the dust has not yet settled on the 2019-20 NBA free agency period it’s not too soon to call this the most monumental in NBA history, ever. When it comes to a free agency period impacting Los Angeles, it’s even more impactful. How can something be more impactful that the most monumental ever? I’m not sure, but it’s still that impactful!
Others have written about who has ended up where and the stories behind those moves. My intent here is not to rehash what you already know, but rather to explore the new normal, both the positives and the negatives, for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Not landing Kawhi Leonard was no doubt not how the Lakers wanted to finish this off-season. I will dive into that a bit later, for now I want to concentrate on the positives.
What went right
After missing out on Kawhi the Lakers had to move quick to sign the best free agents available. They acted quick to sign the best free agents available. The team clearly had “Plan B” ready to implement should they need it. In short order they brought in Danny Green, Jared Dudley, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Rajon Rondo, JaVale McGee, DeMarcus Cousins, Troy Daniels and Quinn Cook.
That’s quite a haul considering how late in the signing period they got started. The Lakers in 2018-19 were criticized for not having shooters around LeBron James. In 2019-20 they resolved that issue, in spades. Green, Daniels and Cook all boast a FG3% of over 40%. Jared Dudley comes in just under that at 39.2%.
Coming into the Kawhi sweepstakes they knew they would need to build their roster. With the above listed signings, they did just that! They now have a solid (if not “super team worthy”) starting five and a functional bench. In fact, given the right opportunity and motivation I wouldn’t be surprised to see Kyle Kuzma in the conversation for 6th man of the year in the coming season.
Of course, through it all, the Lakers still have LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
No, this wasn’t the way the Lakers drew it up. However, they still came out of this with a lot of gaps filled and with two of the best players in the Association wearing their jersey. It’s hard to be mad at that.
What could have gone better
The Lakers wanted Kawhi. He was raised in the area. He obviously wanted to return to Los Angeles. They cleared space to afford him. AD gave up money so the Lakers could afford him.
Yet, he decided to go elsewhere.
Things like that never happened to the Lakers. When they wanted someone, they got them. When the Lakers had a spot and cap space open, free agents wanted in. Lakers fans talk about their team using words like “mystique”, “legend” and “legacy”. They aren’t wrong.
When you played for the Lakers there was a mystique that followed. The franchise has more legendary players than the Clippers have playoff appearances. If you didn’t just want an NBA career, but an NBA legacy, you came to the Purple and Gold.
While all those things remain, they have all faded.
It started when the Lakers wanted Dwight Howard. Howard is obviously a shell of his former self but when he was the Lakers for the 2012-13 season he was still Dwight Howard. He put up 17.1 PPG and 12.4 RPG that season as the Lakers made the playoffs only to lose in the first round.
The Lakers wanted Howard back for the 2013-14 season. They pitched their mystique and Howard’s opportunity to become a Lakers legend and cement his legacy. They even offered him a maximum deal of five years and $118 million.
He said not to all the above signing instead with the Houston Rockets for four years and $88 million dollars. That’s right, he walked away from a chance to play for the Lakers while leaving $30 million dollars on the table.
$30 million dollars!!
The mystique began to fade. Fast forward to today for a repeat of that history. The big difference now is that Kawhi would have been a much bigger catch than Howard. In the end, Leonard, like Howard, said no to the Lakers.
That’s the new normal for one of the Associations most celebrated franchises. Something they have to accept as they move forward. Players now are doing something they never did before. They are saying “No”.
Kobe Bryant said about players like Howard and Leonard that “…if I have to convince you to come here [to the Lakers], to carry that legacy forward, then you ain’t the one to be it.” Leonard needed convincing and ultimately walked away. Clearly, he wasn’t meant to be the one to carry on the Lakers legacy. The bigger problem however is the Lakers franchise apparent inability to realize that their legacy has faded. It’s not enough to attract the talent it once did. Until they accept that as their new normal and act accordingly, history may continue to repeat itself.
Dwight Howard’s career with the Lakers started to take a turn for the worst when he injured his right shoulder in the second half of a game on January 4, 2013. Kobe Bryant said Howard “worried too much” while urging him to play through the pain. Howard countered by saying Bryant
“not a doctor“. Chippiness between players is a part of every NBA locker-room, but this one may have marked the beginning of the end for Howard’s time in LA and the Lakers mystique.
That game on January 4, 2013 was against the Los Angeles Clippers.