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Column: Lakers clear the decks to potentially sign another superstar and form a super team

Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard (2) moves past Golden State Warriors centre Kevon Looney (5) d
Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard drives past Golden State Warriors center Kevon Looney during Game 6 of the NBA Finals on June 13.
(Frank Gunn / Associated Press)

Somehow, miraculously, unimaginably, those stumbling Lakers have suddenly found themselves standing on the precipice of becoming a Super Team.

Kawhi Leonard, the floor is yours.

After months of front-office discord, after a tremendous trade that was still inexplicably botched, those bumbling Lakers are now streaking toward collecting a lineup fit for an NBA champion.

Kyrie Irving, come on in.

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You dust off those Laker car flags, I’ll stop ripping Rob Pelinka for two seconds, and let’s examine Thursday’s bit of Laker news that could change the franchise forever.

Less than two weeks after making a trade that joined Anthony Davis with LeBron James, the Lakers have remarkably created enough salary cap space to potentially add a third superstar to the group.

It wasn’t supposed to be possible after Pelinka didn’t prioritize the salary cap ramifications into the original deal and was initially unable to fix his mistakes.

But in one purple-and-gold streak that lit up the NBA sky Thursday morning, the space appeared when Davis stunningly waived his $4 million trade bonus while Pelinka was finding more room by trading Moe Wagner, Isaac Bonga and Jemerrio Jones to the Washington Wizards.

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Boom, done, room cleared to spend $32 million on a max-level superstar, and suddenly basketball’s most glamorous franchise has another chance to parlay glitz into title gold.

Kemba Walker, are you listening?

The three most obvious and best free-agent candidates for the Lakers — Leonard, Irving and Walker — become available for courting beginning at 3 p.m Sunday, but let’s not kid ourselves. The wooing has surely begun, and may already be complete. The Lakers may have already won the heart of one of those guys; it sure feels like it.

Even if Davis is probably being compensated for his $4 million “sacrifice” through another revenue stream — sponsorship, Space Jam 2, something — he probably doesn’t even think about giving up the money unless he knows it would result in a third superstar joining him. Yeah, the news that James is giving Davis his number 23 was sweet, but not $4 million sweet.

You know who is guiding Davis, right? His agent, Rich Paul, doesn’t allow clients to give up something for nothing. And considering Paul practically runs the Lakers, it seems obvious that something else big is about to happen.

Also, do you think Pelinka would have totally gutted the roster by trading those last three warm bodies if he didn’t think he had a chance at a super max guy? The Lakers now have only one home-grown player on the team. They have no significant draft picks for seemingly the next century.

Your guide to Lakers free agency »

If they were content to fill their remaining cap space with a couple of solid role players, as everyone figured, then Thursday’s developments would not have happened.

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They are going for it all right here, right now, beginning Sunday.

Can you imagine Leonard on this team? Can you imagine augmenting the talents of James and Davis with Leonard’s defense, his quiet leadership, and his ability in crunch time?

Although Leonard’s laid-back personality is a better fit for the Clippers, he would definitely enjoy being in the shadows in this Lakers locker room. It is a shame that the Clippers have done everything right, done it the right way, done it with the right people, created a Kawhi-perfect environment … and still might get snubbed for the more glamorous team that lives down the hall.

But that is the power of the Lakers brand. That is the strength of their tradition. That is why you have to take this cap space seriously. That is why folks in likely free-agent landing spots such as Toronto, Boston, and New York (Knicks and Nets) have moved to the edge of their chairs. Now that the Lakers are in the game, everything changes.

Can you imagine Kyrie Irving on this team? No need to imagine, just check out the NBA title he won the last time he and James played together. Irving left those Cleveland Cavaliers in a snit, but he has since talked about having a greater appreciation for the difficulty of James’ job as a team leader.

Can you imagine Kemba Walker on this team? They need pure scorers, and he averaged 25.6 points last year in Charlotte. They need playmakers, and he’s an aggressive ball handler who averaged 5.9 assists. He does not have the big name of Leonard or Irving; he’s an East Coast guy who isn’t so well known out here. But he’s been an All-Star for three consecutive seasons, and last year made the All-NBA third team.

There are other big names available, but they don’t work. Kevin Durant is out there, but the Lakers can’t wait a year for his physical issues. Klay Thompson, same story. Jimmy Butler, no thank you.

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The Lakers need to land either Leonard, Irving or Walker, anything less would be considered a missed opportunity, and that includes the possibility of bringing back D’Angelo Russell. That would be a nice story, but that’s not a championship story.

Pelinka, who has been much maligned in this space, should be given credit for putting the Lakers in this position. Now he needs to finish.

Jeanie Buss has also been heavily criticized here, but this is her chance to walk into a conference room, show herself as a strong leader, and walk out with a superstar.

The next week could be magical. The gates have been unlocked, the floor has been cleared, and some of the worst months in franchise history could be forgotten if one more superstar walks through the open door. The stage has been set for the Lakers to once again be the Lakers.


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