Kawhi Leonard is officially off the board for the Lakers, or at least for now. The big news Wednesday morning was the news of the small forward being traded to the Toronto Raptors. In theory, this means that the Lakers are satisfied with their current squad and want to ride this season out with it before doing anything else.
The front office was smart not to make a rash decision and acquire Kawhi, instead opting to see how the young guys mesh with LeBron James before making any further decisions. And at the same time, there is no reason to match the asking price of the San Antonio Spurs when Kawhi wants to come to Los Angeles. And for those that are using Paul George as an example of this strategy failing, it’s not the same thing.
For one, reports are that he does not want to stay in Toronto. It’s in a completely different country, unlike Oklahoma City. And while Paul George preferred LA, he just wanted to get out of Indiana and go to a more winning team. Kawhi just wants to get to LA. And the Lakers also have a recruiting tool in LeBron James that they did not have previously. And ultimately, George is an anomaly that most likely won’t repeat itself.
It’s tempting to move the farm to become instant title contenders whenever you can, but patience is vital. A team of James and Leonard surrounded by a bunch of role players would not beat the Warriors. You need depth, and that is what the Lakers’ young core has. They have four-to-five guys, that paired with James and someone else next year, can do some damage. And as the team is currently constructed, they can challenge for home-court this upcoming season.
Also, sustained success is something every franchise in every sport aims for, but trading away Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart, draft picks, etc. would be in direct contrast to that. Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka need to hold onto this group because it has a chance to be special together.
Let’s start with Brandon Ingram, who made tremendous strides during his second season. His numbers went from 9.4 points, four rebounds, and 2.1 assists on 40.2% shooting from three and 29.4% from three to 16.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, and four assists on 47% from the field and 39% from three.
He improved as an all-around playmaker and a menace on defense with his length, ultimately going from ‘bust’ back to a blue-chip prospect in the eyes of many, and the focal for a Kawhi Leonard trade in the eyes of the Spurs.
He may never become Kevin Durant, but he can be a Giannis Antetokounmpo with a jumper. LeBron James believes the young stud is near All-Star level as a 20-year-old. He has a chance to be special and the future franchise player for the team.
Kyle Kuzma adds an extra offensive punch, throwing in 16 points on 45% from the field and 36% (37.6% on catch-and-shoot) from three as a rookie, en route to All-Rookie First Team honors. Kuzma is a talented scorer that can be an elite sixth man if he doesn’t start and showed qualities of a good shooter. Kuzma has displayed a great mindset, playing with a chip on his shoulder, and work ethic, which may raise his ceiling.
Love him or hate him, there’s no doubt that Lonzo Ball could not shoot last year, shooting 36% from the field, and 30.5% from three and below 50% from the field. But at the same time, he did a bunch of other things well, averaging around seven rebounds and assists each) while playing terrific team defense.
He is a high IQ and unselfish point guard that made his teammates better around him. And rookies are allowed to struggle, especially with the shooting. Brandon Ingram showed that you can still make a good jump in efficiency in your second year.
Josh Hart may be the most overlooked player from the group, and one of the most in the league. His numbers on the surface are not impressive. But that is because of the lack of opportunity at the beginning of the season.
13.3 points 6 rebounds on 42.2% from three and 49.6% from the field in just over 31 mpg. Post-All-Star break, Hart put up 15.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per game on 40% from three. Then he proceeded to win summer league MVP after vowing to “dominate.” But his defense may be his best attribute, which speaks volumes. He may never be a star but Josh Hart is looking like he is a legitimate NBA starter, at worst, and the perfect role player on a good team.
All of these guys offer a unique attribute that will help the team win. An extra year of development will get them closer to being ready for sky-high expectations. If they develop as expected, they could offer the talent+depth, when combined with LeBron James and another star would need to bring down the Warriors.
And once LeBron James retires, he can pass the torch onto them. This year may not result in a championship, but it’s a process and one that is worth the wait because something special is brewing.
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