Lakers selling their future, not history, to free agents
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) — The Los Angeles Lakers spent the last few summers attempting to sell the NBA’s top free agents on the franchise’s glamorous combination of history and Hollywood.
From Dwight Howard to LaMarcus Aldridge, that pitch went terribly — even more terribly than the Lakers’ last few seasons.
So general manager Mitch Kupchak is trying something new this summer: The Lakers are selling their future, not their past.
“I do feel like we have a lot more going for us this year than we did last year,” Kupchak said. “We can focus a little bit more on the basketball side of it, because we do have more to sell. The franchise and the city have always sold themselves. I’m not sure we’ll concentrate as much on that as we did last year.”
After the worst season in franchise history and the retirement of Kobe Bryant, the Lakers have roughly $55 million in salary cap room to use in the free agent signing period — but the glitz and celebrity that once attracted the likes of Shaquille O’Neal aren’t as impressive in the 21st century.
Instead, Kupchak hinted that the Lakers will attempt to attract players who are interested in getting in on the ground floor of the next big thing, not in joining Bryant in an attempt to climb back to the heights repeatedly scaled by this team.
Will it work? Even Kupchak isn’t sure. At least the Lakers are ready to start their next chapter.
“It might not be different,” Kupchak said, before quickly adding: “I think this year is different.”
The Lakers are looking for leaders and contributors to join an interesting young core, consisting of No. 2 pick Brandon Ingram, D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. The group is unproven, but undeniably intriguing — and in clear need of a veteran presence beyond guard Lou Williams.
“We didn’t have as much to sell last year and the year before,” Kupchak said. “And we only had enough money for one (maximum contract for a) player last year, too. So I think this year, we have more to sell. We have Julius, D’Angelo, Jordan Clarkson, who’s a year further along, and Larry Nance.”
Running the show is 36-year-old coach Luke Walton, a prized prospect himself after his standout work with the Golden State Warriors.
The former Lakers forward began his pitch to potential new players at his introductory news conference, emphasizing his knowledge of the team’s tradition as he begins to change the way it plays.
“The future is bright,” Walton said. “We’re going to play an up-tempo game ... and we have money to spend. I know the Buss family, and I know the Lakers organization. They do what it takes to win. That, to me, is all you really need to know. I don’t see why you wouldn’t want to come here and play.”
The Lakers already know they won’t land the biggest prize in the market after Kevin Durant declined to meet with them. Yet there are plenty of candidates who could be intrigued by their combination of potential and the lavish compensation for playing on LA’s most popular team.
Big men Al Horford and Hassan Whiteside both intrigue the Lakers, as does forward Nicolas Batum. DeMar DeRozan, a Compton native, has long been rumored to be a homecoming candidate, although Lakers fans are sharply divided on the wisdom of giving big money to a streaky player.
The Lakers have just six players under contract for next season, and that includes shooting guard Nick Young, who might be gone soon. Ingram also will definitely be on the team, but Kupchak is eager to put veterans around his blue-chip prospects.
“I think history tells you that a bunch of young guys on a team is probably not a good thing,” Kupchak said. “They look around for leadership and advice from somebody who’s been through this a couple of times, and if there’s nobody to talk to, then they really don’t know how to handle the situation. So I think we will look to add some veteran leadership, and hopefully not only leadership, but guys who can help us win games.”