Can the Lakers land a Big 3? What you need to know as the team heads into free agency

During this year’s NBA playoffs, LeBron James said something that seemed outlandish.

At 33 years old and in the 15th year of his career, he said his body felt the best it ever had.

It would seem outlandish except for the fact that the Cleveland Cavaliers star is not like most people or athletes. The care and attention he gives to his body is exceptional, and he was born with physical gifts that contribute to his greatness. It’s part of why James is embarking on his third major summer of free agency with just as much power as he’s ever had after declining the $35.6-million option on the final year of his contract.

This being a “LeBron James Free-Agency Summer” means every sentence James utters gets dissected. It means all his friends are asked what they think he’ll do. It means grownups obsess over rumors of where he might enroll his children in school.

And this year it means the Lakers want him.

On Saturday, at 9:01 p.m. PDT, the Lakers will embark on the first critical free-agency period of Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka’s administration. They were brought in last year after owner Jeanie Buss grew frustrated with how far the Lakers had fallen, especially in the esteem of big-name free agents.

It’s their job to fix it.

Here’s what you need to know about free agency as the Lakers aim to change their narrative. The following information comes from conversations with people around the league and within the team, some of whom weren’t authorized to speak publicly.

Are the league’s stars once again looking at the Lakers as an attractive destination?

At the very least, the league’s stars aren’t shutting the door on the Lakers as they have done in recent years. James has interest in them, though he hasn’t publicly expressed interest in any team. Oklahoma City’s Paul George has said he’s always wanted to play for the Lakers, though he hasn’t said he’s made up his mind about what he’ll do in free agency. Kawhi Leonard has interest in playing for the Lakers. They’ve moved past the days when LaMarcus Aldridge shunned them and Kevin Durant wouldn’t even take a meeting in part because there is a sense of hope about their future.

What is George’s mind-set heading into free agency?

Russell Westbrook once said his sales pitch to George for staying with Oklahoma City past this season would be when the Thunder won a championship. Well, the Thunder lost in the first round. Afterward George heaped praise on Westbrook and said what a great teammate he is. George tries not to be hurtful in the way he handles things. He’s expressed regret about how his career in Indiana ended. “I know a lot of people say he wants to be liked and he wants people to like him,” Paul’s sister, Teiosha George, said during an interview in February. “It’s not that. It’s a respect thing and a loyalty.” She added that the Thunder did a great job of making her brother feel valued. Remember, too, George is a Palmdale native, loves being in Los Angeles and spends his offseason here.

Who knows what James is thinking?

Only the people in his tight inner circle. All indications are that James has not made up his mind yet. Houston Rockets guard James Harden told the Los Angeles Times that even though James and Rockets guard Chris Paul are close friends, Paul doesn’t spend much time talking with James about where he’s going to play. James has said his wife and children will factor in the decision, as he never moves to a different city without them.

Will the Lakers be able to trade for Leonard?

Probably not, but they are in discussions with San Antonio about the possibility. He’s interested in both the Lakers and the Clippers, but the Spurs are not interested in helping a conference rival add a star. The Lakers are interested in Leonard, but also well aware that he could hit free agency next summer, when they could get him without giving up assets.

How does the Lakers’ salary-cap space look?

Great. Financially, they have the ability to add Leonard through a trade and sign James and George to max contracts. That could lead to some tough decisions. For example, if they can’t find a trade partner willing to take Luol Deng, owed $18 million in each of the next two years, they’d need to waive and stretch Deng, a move that would allow them to spread the salary cap space allotted to him over five years. They’d also need to renounce their rights to Julius Randle, a restricted free agent. If they can find a trade partner willing to take Deng, they’d likely need to give up a young, promising player, too.

What about Randle?

There are plenty of people in the Lakers organization who love Randle and want him back. Coach Luke Walton is one of them. But whether or not the Lakers keep Randle will depend on what options they have in free agency. He had a great 2017-18 season and could find more lucrative offers elsewhere.

Who is involved in creating and executing the Lakers’ free-agency plans?

Johnson and Pelinka. Although they’ve tried to temper expectations with an insistence on focusing on a two-year, franchise-altering plan, the Lakers’ president of basketball operations and general manager are betting on themselves in a big way.

Support our journalism

Please consider subscribing today to support stories like this one. Get full access to our signature journalism for just 99 cents for the first four weeks. Already a subscriber? Your support makes our work possible. Thank you. | Twitter: @taniaganguli


1:25 p.m.: This Q&A has been updated with new information about free-agency status for some NBA players.

This Q&A was originally published at 3 a.m. Monday.