Sport Lakers brass learns from past mistakes, lowers expectations ahead of trade deadline

23:15  06 february  2018
23:15  06 february  2018 Source:   sportingnews.com

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Some Lakers fans saw the team adding stars like LeBron James and Paul George this offseason as a foregone conclusion. It's not. That warranted a lowering of expectations ahead of Thursday's trade deadline .

Lakers brass learns from past mistakes , lowers expectations ahead of trade deadline : Some Lakers fans saw the team adding stars like LeBron James and Paul George this offseason as a foregone conclusion.

a man sitting on a table: Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka © (Getty Images) Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka

It’s not that the former chiefs of Laker personnel, the duo of Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss, paraded around town announcing the greatness the franchise was about to achieve once they unleashed their winning personalities on unsuspecting star free agents. But the pair never did much to proactively tamp down free-agent expectations among the team’s fans. Instead, they’d make their pitches, then wait a few hours for stories to leak about how badly the meetings had been bungled.

Give some credit, then, to the new guard, Rob Pelinka and Magic Johnson. Two days before the trade deadline (and five months before the start of free agency), they made certain to put out an altered outlook for the franchise’s future. Talk of the potential signing of LeBron James this summer, with either DeMarcus Cousins or Paul George beside him, had gotten heated enough in the last half-year that some in LA began counting it as a foregone conclusion.

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It’s not. That warranted a lowering of expectations.

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Thus, ESPN is reporting that the Lakers could well wind up focusing their attention not on the bustling free-agent class of 2018 — with James at the helm — but on the class of 2019, where disgruntled Spurs star Kawhi Leonard will be the big prize.

The big problem, so far, has been that the Lakers can’t find a way to clear out the cap space for this summer. The solution: just ahead of the trade deadline, they make the claim that they were never all that focused on 2018 in the first place. Ahem.

Consider it a lesson learned, one that goes back to the escape of Dwight Howard in 2013 and ran right through the Kupchak-Buss attempts to sign Carmelo Anthony and LaMarcus Aldridge. The Lakers made no promises in those days, but the team left open enough hope on July 1 that fans were crestfallen when the targets signed elsewhere a week or so later.

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This time, the Lakers are ahead of the story, making clear that the successful signing of James, George or anyone major would be as much a surprise to them as anyone else. This time, when the second week of July comes around, folks in Lakerland will either be ecstatic in their surprise that the team signed someone major, or eagerly looking forward to July 2019.

Johnson and Pelinka are buying themselves another year.

Of course, the reality is that nothing has changed for the Lakers heading into Thursday’s trade deadline. No matter when they are able to land a major player in free agency, they still have to contend with two years (after this one) of Luol Deng at $37 million and Jordan Clarkson at $26 million. No one is taking on Deng, and Clarkson could still be had for an expiring contract and a draft pick. The market for him as been limited, though, and if he can’t be moved, LA can’t give out two max deals. And there is still the possibility of moving Julius Randle along before he hits restricted free agency.

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It’s pretty easy to decide that you’re not going to chase two top-tier free agents in the coming summer after the reality strikes that you might not have the money available for those two free agents, or that one is too risky (Cousins, with a torn Achilles tendon) and the other two (James and George) are perhaps not totally committed to coming. It’s like announcing that you quit just as your boss is filling out your pink slip.

There’s still a chance things could fall into place for LA in the coming days, or before the NBA Draft. But the Lakers have disappointed their fans, badly, in recent years. Pelinka and Johnson, at least, have taken the sting out of what could well be an empty summer, five months in advance.

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