The Los Angeles Lakers have come out of the 2018 Draft with three players whom many did not foresee them taking. That may sound familiar because just last year many did not the front office taking Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart, too. Lakers fans know how that turned out – Kuzma averaged the second most points out of all rookies, while Hart shot nearly 40 percent from three.
So when the name “Moritz Wagner” was announced with the 25th pick, fans took a step back. Because, Mitchell Robinson, the man that was “promised,” was still on the board, as was the case for Robert Wiliams. So why Wagner? Why does he stick out from the rest?
Looking at the 6’11” power forward/center from Michigan, the first aspect of his game that sticks out is that Wagner can stretch the floor and play with a high motor. His basketball IQ is outstanding, and the two guys he emulates are Kevin Garnett and Dirk Nowitzki. Nowitzki makes sense, being a German native and all, but why Garnett? Wagner likes how crazy Garnett was and sees that in himself. When watching the film, he does play with a lot of emotion. Wagner can immediately play for a starting spot, depending on how free agency turns out. It is highly unlikely Brook Lopez will return, Julius Randle will have plenty of suitors on the market, and Los Angeles will be preoccupied with LeBron and Paul George (if they sign there). That leaves the initial competition between Zubac and Thomas Bryant. Both of whom, have improved this summer.
The Lakers stuck with foreign players in the second round, taking Svi Mykhailiuk and Isaac Bonga. Bonga is a raw prospect who will most likely stay overseas for a year. Mykailiuk is a lethal shooter who shot 44% from downtown at Kansas, plus he’s only 20. The Lakers wanted to improve their shooting in the off-season, and they have taken the right steps in doing so.
All of these recent draft moves lead up to free agency, the No. 1 topic in Los Angeles. Although free agency starts on July 1, fans might find out the whereabouts of some players earlier. The opt-in deadline for players with an opt-out year in their contract is June 29th. One of those players with this option is LeBron James. It has been highly speculated that if James were to stay in Cleveland he would opt into his $35.6 million remaining on his contract. However, James could also opt-in to help facilitate a trade to a team with limited cap space, a similar route that Chris Paul did last year with the Houston Rockets. So the possibilities with LeBron are endless, no matter what the latest rumors indicate.
Then there remains the Paul George and Kawhi Leonard situation. George is a free agent on July 1st and is rumored to be considering a hometown return to LA. The problem is he has also grown fond of Oklahoma City and being teammates with Russell Westbrook. George has time to make this choice and will likely need the pitches from each team to be a deciding factor. The Leonard situation is a bit more tricky, though. Leonard has a year left on his contract before becoming a free agent, similar to Paul George last year. He has requested a trade, preferably to the Lakers, but the San Antonio Spurs seem unwilling to trade him to LA The Lakers also don’t want to give up all their young picks to get Leonard now when they can just sign him next year.
“Our goal is to keep him as a part of our program for a long time,” said R.C. Buford, Spurs GM on Kawhi Leonard per Tom Orsborn.
However, risking Leonard getting traded to another team and growing to like that team, as PG did last year, would diminish the chances of signing him next year. So the Lakers are at a crossroad with that situation, and it seems like the least likely to happen of the three. George is a toss-up, but Magic Johnson could sway him. Los Angeles may appear to be the best fit for LeBron, but a return to Cleveland can’t be dismissed as well as Houston or Philadelphia..
#Lakers GM Rob Pelinka: "With Kuz, with B.I., with Josh, to see these guys start opting in to greatness, regardless of what happens this summer, that in itself is a huge thing for us."
— Ryan Ward (@RyanWardLA) June 22, 2018
At the end of the day, Rob Pelinka, Lakers GM, summed it up best when he said he doesn’t want to just win for a short period really fast, but instead win for a long time in the distant future. The latter is what could happen if the Lakers keep their young core intact without influence from aging superstars or ball-centric players. Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, and Julius Randle can become an outstanding team with the help of the other young role players. So, there is no need to hit a home run this summer. It would be nice to get Leonard next summer instead, but LA should not trade for him this summer.
There will be plenty of opportunities to make moves outside the big three names, like DeMarcus Cousins and smaller guys who would take on a one-year deal. Regardless of how this summer turns out, the Lakers should have a bright future, and it’s important to remember that.
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