SportsPulse: It’s the trade we’ve all been waiting for and one that will shape this offseason and the NBA landscape for years to come. It also makes the Lakers an instant contender in the West.
With soon-to-be free agents Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson more than likely out of the picture next season after suffering injuries in the NBA Finals, the Western Conference door is wide open.
On Saturday, the Los Angeles Lakers walked right through.
Superstar big man is Anthony Davis is headed to L.A. to join LeBron James, putting the Lakers, who have missed the postseason for a franchise record six consecutive seasons, on the path to title contention. But they’re not done yet.
They still have cap space to work with this summer, but the amount of money they can offer in a contract depends on the date that the Davis trade becomes official. There are a lot of moving parts and things can always change, but as of right now, it’s looking like the Lakers won’t have enough to offer a player a max contract.
Will a player be willing to take less to suit up alongside two of the most talented players in the league? Or will the Lakers pursue less expensive free agents — guys like Danny Green, JJ Redick, Ricky Rubio or Bojan Bogdanovic — to build out the roster and help in the depth department?
We take a look at the top free agents for the Lakers to target ahead of the start of free agency on June 30.
Kawhi Leonard, Toronto
A trio of Leonard (who’s arguably the best player in the world right now), James and Davis would be unprecedented, as it would put three of the league’s top-seven players on one team. The idea is one thing, but actually making it happen is another. Luring Leonard from Toronto — he just led the Raptors to the first championship in franchise history — or beating out the LA Clippers in their pursuit will be no easy task for the Lakers’ front office.
Kemba Walker, Charlotte
The Lakers need a point guard after trading away Lonzo Ball, and Walker, 29, is reported to be one of the team’s top targets. To make matters more interesting, he recently said he’d be open to taking less than a supermax contract to remain in Charlotte. Why take less money to stay on a team in limbo instead of a team on the verge of championship contention? The three-time All-Star has only seen the postseason twice — losing in the first round both times — during his eight-year career, and he’s coming off his best season yet.
Kyrie Irving, Boston
Irving forced his way out of Cleveland after winning a championship alongside James, so would he really head to Laker Land to team up with him again? It’s certainly possible, and Irving admitting in January that he called James to apologize for how he acted as a younger player suggests that their relationship is just fine. Irving is also reportedly interested in playing in New York, and the Knicks and Nets are both possibilities.
Jimmy Butler, Philadelphia
His recent history of locker-room issues aside, Butler remains one of the best two-way players in the league, and he’ll be pursued by many teams this summer — including the 76ers, who he helped lead to a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference semifinals against Toronto. He may not be the best fit alongside James and Davis from a floor-spacing perspective, but the front office can always add more shooters.
Tobias Harris, Philadelphia
The Lakers made it a priority to keep Kyle Kuzma in the Davis deal, and he and Harris have a similar playing style. Still, the 26-year-old Harris is coming off a career year, and he’s more than talented enough to be the third option on a championship contender. He averaged a career-high 20 points and 7.9 rebounds last season.
D’Angelo Russell, Brooklyn
Another player coming off a career year, Russell emerged as one of the league’s best young point guards during his second season in Brooklyn. Russell, of course, was drafted No. 2 overall by the Lakers in 2015 and played there for two years before being dealt to the Nets. But that was an old regime, and if the Nets pursue Irving in free agency, that could leave Russell, a restricted free agent, looking for a new home.
Khris Middleton, Milwaukee
A first-time All-Star this season, Middleton, 27, is a two-way talent worth pursuing. He’s long and can play multiple positions and score in a variety of ways, and he’s spent most of his career as a No. 2 option behind Giannis Antetokounmpo, proving that he has no problem playing second (or third) fiddle to a superstar.