Magic in the Air

Justin Prakaiphetkul, Asst. Sports Writer

Heading into the summer, the Lakers’ 2017 offseason appeared as though it would be much quieter than it was in past years. Yet, just one month into free agency, the Lakers have dominated the headlines. Lonzo Ball has the City of Angels buzzing, as the team just won the summer league championship, and suddenly, Los Angeles looks like an attractive basketball destination once again.

To begin the offseason, the Lakers shipped off D’Angelo Russell along with Timofey Mozgov’s three year $64 million contract to the Brooklyn Nets for Brook Lopez and the 27th pick in this year’s draft. On draft night, the Lakers then traded the 28th pick they received earlier this year from the Houston Rockets for the 30th and 42th pick. To cap it all off, the Lakers signed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to a one year $18 million deal and re-signed Tyler Ennis to a one year minimum deal with a team option for the second year.

With the Lakers offseason pretty much over, I can confidently say that the team’s new front office, comprised of President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson and General Manager  Rob Pelinka, has shown itself  to be quite competent. For the first time in what seems like forever, the news media is talking about the Lakers in a positive light. The front office could even push the Lakers to regain the spotlight if, and I’m emphasizing the word if, they are able to execute their plan of signing two max-contract level players in the 2018 offseason.

Assuming the Lakers accept Larry Nance Jr., Ivica Zubac and Brandon Ingram’s team options for the 2018-19 season, the team will have $50.9 million committed heading into the 2018 offseason, considering the players’ salary as reported on In order to fulfill their goal, the team still has to trade Jordan Clarkson, stretch Luol Deng’s contract and renounce Julius Randle, Corey Brewer, Caldwell-Pope and Lopez’s rights. If the Lakers are able to trade Clarkson and Deng for expiring contracts, the team may be able to bring back one of their free agents or sign another established rotation player.

Not only did the Lakers gain more flexibility for next summer, but they also added an offensive all-star caliber center in Lopez, along with forward Kyle Kuzma, the 27th pick.

Offensively, Lopez makes Ball’s life much easier. Lopez has the ability to knock down the three-point shot, and when the game slows down, the team can simply let him go to work in the post. Though he leaves quite a bit to be desired on the other end of the court in terms of pick and roll and transition defense, Lopez has proved to be an effective rim protector, averaging 1.7 blocks per game this past season.

Whether or not the Lakers’ master plan actually comes to fruition remains to be seen.

I cannot envision LeBron James leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers to join two soon-to-be 20 year olds and another star player. However, I can see a world where Paul George joins his hometown team, though I’m more pessimistic about the idea than other fans.

Unless Ball and Ingram develop at lightning speed, the Lakers would not be able to top the Warriors, even with James and George.

Personally, I would have just stuck with the full-on youth movement. I really believed that both Ball and Russell would have complemented each other well offensively.

If the Lakers’ plan fails, resigning Lopez is not a bad plan B. But if Russell develops into the all-star I believe he can be, the Lakers could be left scratching their heads for years to come.

With that said, I could not be more happy about the Lakers’ draft. The Lakers left the draft with four rookies: Ball, Kuzma, Josh Hart and Thomas Bryant. And thus far, all of the new additions have shown flashes that they belong in the NBA.

Although Ball struggled from the field and there were various turnovers during the summer league, his pass-first mentality was infectious. Ball had the entire team looking for open teammates, something that hasn’t been seen in years from the Lakers. Ball’s knack for hitting guys in the right spot has been advertised thus far, and I expect it to carry over to the regular season.

Ball’s ability to grab boards also translated over to the summer league. I do not expect Ball to be able to grab boards with such ease on a nightly basis when the season starts. But, he has shown enough to make me believe that down the line, he could be one of the best rebounding guards in the league.

Though Ball has been nothing short of impressive, the player that surprised me the most was Kuzma. When the Lakers drafted him, I honestly had no idea who he was, but after watching his play in the summer league, I can see why the Lakers were high on him.

Two things that stood out to me most about Kuzma were his versatility and shooting. Kuzma showed that he can outrun opposing players on the break and finish with contact, along with the ability to guard multiple positions. Kuzma also displayed a smooth shooting stroke for a big.

Both Hart and Bryant also showed promise as role players. In his two summer league appearances, Hart was solid on both ends of the floor. Though Bryant will need time in the G-League to develop, he played with a certain energy similar to that of former Lakers center Tarik Black.

With the team taking home the summer league title, the youth of the Lakers enter the NBA as champions one way or another. Winning at such a young age may be a sign of great things to come for the Lakers.

To round off the offseason, the Lakers signed former Detroit Pistons Caldwell-Pope to start at the shooting guard spot and re-signed Ennis to back-up Ball. I see the signings as low risk, high reward moves.

Caldwell-Pope is the typical three-and-D player that every team needs in the modern NBA. He is a capable knockdown shooter who will help the team spread the floor. Caldwell-Pope’s defense is his calling-card, and he will make Ball’s life a lot easier on that end of the floor.

As much as I loved Russell’s game, Caldwell-Pope complements Ball better on both ends of the floor. Just like Lopez, the Lakers could do much worse than resigning Caldwell-Pope. If Caldwell-Pope takes that next step to becoming an 18 points-per-game scorer, he could be one of those max-contract level players the Lakers want.

Though Ennis will not add much in terms of wins or losses, he has the potential to be a solid back-up point guard for the team. In his 22 games with the Lakers, Ennis averaged 7.7 points and 2.4 assists per game in 17.8 minutes a game.

If the Lakers do not bring in two superstars, but are able to re-sign Randle, Caldwell-Pope and Lopez, the team will still be set up well for the future. If they wait too long for the big fish to decide, thus missing out on re-signing their upcoming free agents, along with the two max-contract level players, then the team will have taken a huge step back.