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The Los Angeles Lakers are once again pressured to sign big name free agents. Superstars are teaming up every year and it has become a huge trend. The Lakers might be tempted to follow that trend, but they should continue to develop their young core.
When Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka took over the franchise, there was an expectation of vast improvement every day. Every decision they've made has been put under a microscope. ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith expressed how he felt about the Lakers if they did not sign a superstar via free agency.
Not signing LeBron James or Paul George doesn’t make the Lakers a failure. If that is the case, then every other team is a failure. Neither player is necessarily the ingredient to a championship next season.
The Oklahoma City Thunder signed Paul George last year only to lose in the 1st round of the playoffs. LeBron has led the Cleveland Cavaliers to the finals for four straight seasons. However, the Cavs lost 3 of the last 4 finals to the Golden State Warriors. As long as the Warriors have Klay Thompson, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green, it won’t matter where any free agent star chooses to go.
The Lakers should consider how the Warriors became dominant in the first place. Their great team wasn’t built overnight. Kobe Bryant gave Pelinka advise when he was hired. “My first day on the job, Kobe called me and said I should be patient.”
Pelinka continued his perspective of patience. “Look at the great team north of us. They drafted well and stayed patient. They could have traded their rookie contracts but didn’t.”
Steph Curry, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson were all drafted by the Warriors. Eventually, they become superstars and won a championship before Kevin Durant came along. The Lakers have taken a similar approach and have drafted well.
Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle are examples of the young core who have grown immensely since they were drafted. Randle, a fourth-year big man, averaged several career-highs last season. He averaged 15 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 2.5 assists.
Ingram averaged a career-high 16 points per game. His biggest highlight was when he scored 32 points, five rebounds, three assists, three steals, and two blocks against the Warriors. After the game, he talked about going up against Durant. “The competitive nature came out when we were scoring.”
Kevin Durant noticed a difference in the second year forward. “You can see he’s learning and getting better. If I was watching TV, I’d be really excited to see him play.”
The Lakers also drafted extremely well last year. Lonzo Ball was taken in the first round and did not disappoint. He was nearly a triple-double machine averaging 10 points 7 assists and 7 rebounds. The biggest skill he needs to refine is his shooting but that will improve with time.
Kyle Kuzma was the steal of the 2017 NBA draft. His confidence and scoring ability showed early and often in the regular season. Kuzma showed superstar potential by going off against the Houston Rockets.
Patience is the best approach for the Lakers and their young core. The Warriors are dominant right now but potential cap issues could break them up. According to ESPN’s Chris Haynes, Draymond Green is expected to turn down his extension offer. Kevin Durant is a free agent again and Klay Thompson is also not expected to sign an extension.
The Warriors cannot keep all four of their superstars and pay them max contracts. They are aware of that and appear to be in the market for more big-name talent. Tim Kawakami of The Athletic reported that they remain interested in Anthony Davis, one of the best players in the NBA.
Winning can create contractual complications and upcoming young teams like the Lakers need to take notice. They can save money by keeping rookie contracts while improving the team steadily. If they continue to develop their players and draft well, it won’t be long before they return to prominence.