The Los Angeles Lakers secured the biggest prize on the 2018 NBA free-agent market when they signed LeBron James to a four-year contract.
Could they be setting themselves up to land the top prize of the 2019 free-agent class, too?
The Lakers bought out veteran forward Luol Deng before the Aug. 31 deadline for the 2018-19 season, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. By using the “waive and stretch” provision, Los Angeles has created additional salary cap space going forward, as Woj notes the Lakers could have almost $40 million to spend next summer.
That would be enough salary cap space to sign a superstar player to a max contract without having to trade any players already on the roster to create room. So, the Lakers could sign an elite player to pair with James and keep their young core of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart intact.
The top players who can be unrestricted free agents next summer are Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant and Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard.
Leonard has been linked to the Lakers quite a bit in trade rumors over the last year. He was born in Los Angeles and played college basketball for one year at San Diego State. But the Lakers don’t need to trade for Leonard, since he’ll be a UFA next offseason. Why give up valuable trade assets for a player you can just sign next summer?
The only reason would be the Paul George example. George was linked to the Lakers in trade rumors for more than a year, then re-signed with the Oklahoma City in July without even giving his hometown Lakers a free-agent meeting.
Time will tell if Leonard will take a similar path as George, but the Lakers do have plenty of options in free agency next summer now that they’ve created the necessary cap space as a result of the Deng buyout.
James might not have to wait too much longer for a second superstar in Hollywood.
Thumbnail photo via Ken Blaze/USA TODAY Sports Images