It’s the year 2019 and after a slight period of suffering, the LA Lakers are NBA Champions once again. It took two seasons for them to get to this stage despite parading a core of DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall, Paul George and LeBron James, but finally, your LA Lakers were champions once again. James is likely going to ride the sunset into retirement, which opens the door for Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball to take over. All is well in Laker land. It may very well be the start of another dynasty.
All of a sudden, the Laker fan wakes up, only to realize that it’s still 2017. James is still with the Cleveland Cavaliers, although his future with the team is up in the air. DeMarcus Cousins and John Wall are with New Orleans and Washington with pretty good teammates, but anything could happen the next year.
Paul George? That’s an interesting one. Right now, he’s part of the Oklahoma City Thunder, challenging Russell Westbrook’s title as fashion king. With regards to where he’ll be come next season, it’s quite the riddle trying to figure that out. Before he was traded to the Thunder, a number of reporters mentioned that George was likely headed to Laker Land, to the delight of Laker Nation. All of a sudden, Lee Jenkins came out with a terrific piece on George, and these particular lines broke the hearts of some Laker fans:
“I grew up a Lakers and a Clippers fan,” George says. “I idolized Kobe. There will always be a tie here, a connection here. People saying I want to come here, who doesn’t want to play for their hometown? That’s a dream come true, if you’re a kid growing up on the outskirts of L.A., to be the man in your city. But it’s definitely been overstated. For me, it’s all about winning. I want to be in a good system, a good team. I want a shot to win it. I’m not a stats guy. I’m playing this game to win and build a legacy of winning. I’ve yet to do that. I’m searching for it. If we get a killer season in Oklahoma, we make the conference finals or upset the Warriors or do something crazy, I’d be dumb to want to leave that.”
Some Laker fans were understandably disappointed with this development. They thought that George going to the Lakers was a foregone conclusion. Apparently, that’s far from the case, as George has his eyes set on winning.
There were other Laker fans who reacted neutrally. Okay cool, George isn’t a lock to be a Laker. We have a number of pieces and a lot of cap space. Even if we don’t land any big time free agent, at least we have a solid young core to lean on.
Then there are Laker fans who are like my good friend, who we’ll call Gabriel for the case of this piece. We had the following conversation after a good game of pick-up yesterday:
K: So, what do you think of the article that came out about Paul George?
G: The one about the Laker thing being overstated?
G: Well, that just means he doesn’t want to get rings.
K: So if George doesn’t go to the Lakers you’re cool with it?
G: Yeah. He just doesn’t want to get rings.
Obnoxious? Brash? Maybe. Confident? There’s no doubt about that. That’s how most Laker fans are. They’re passionate, and have an undying belief that no matter what, stars will go to them because of their storied history. The LA Lakers aren’t the winningest franchise in the league (That goes to the Boston Celtics), but they’re easily the most marketable. It’s the big city of Los Angeles, the palm trees and Hollywood. Who wouldn’t want to go there? In the eyes of Laker fans, practically anyone is a #FutureLaker because of these factors.
That hashtag. We see it everywhere when free agency comes along. Kevin Durant? He was a #FutureLaker. LeBron James? He’s definitely a #FutureLaker in the eyes of the LA faithful. It’s highly likely that LeBron James Jr. is already headed to the Lakers by the time he enters the NBA Draft.
It’s ridiculous confidence by Lakers fans. In a sense, you can’t really blame them that they think this way. After all, LA is the land of the stars, and they have the resume to back it up. Kobe Bryant is a star who goes beyond the basketball court. Shaquille O’Neal is one of the most dominant players ever, easy. Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabar are among the Top 10 Greatest Players of All Time. You could even go as far as George Mikan, who many see as a huge figure in the game of basketball. Laker fans have reason to be confident, and they will continue to be brash regarding stars going to Laker land until they sleep on their deathbed.
But, let’s be realistic. We’re in a completely different era, and at this point, the concept of the #FutureLaker is dead.
That doesn’t mean that stars will no longer go to LA. Some big time names will likely still end up as a Laker. But not for the reasons that fans have been clinging on to for so long.
There are those who argue that being in a big market like Los Angeles is already a huge advantage for them in landing big stars. At this day and age, that advantage is overstated, just like the supposed desire of George to be a Laker. We can go ahead and argue how marketing oneself as a player matters so much and there are so much tools beyond what city you play to brand yourself, but we won’t. For most players, having lots of money and a marketable brand isn’t that important.
Paul George said so himself to Lee Jenkins: “I want to be in a good system, a good team.” Why would players want that? Because they want to win. Stars want to be able to win titles, or at the very least one ring. A big reason for that is how we judge players based on how many rings that they win. Every time we talk about Charles Barkley, Karl Malone or Patrick Ewing, we’ll discuss about how great they are. But in the middle of all that, one of us will suddenly say, “But he doesn’t have a ring!” as if to discount the greatness that they have.
That’s a big reason why James went to the Miami Heat. That’s also why Kevin Durant went to the Warriors. Because they wanted to win. The question now is, why did Duranr and James view Golden State and Miami respectively as the best places to win a title? Let’s break it down one by one.
For the case of James, he opted to join Miami because two of his friends were already there – Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. He didn’t want to be the main scorer anymore like how he was treated in Cleveland, so he decided to take his talents to South Beach. In Miami, he would be positioned as a playmaker surrounded by extremely talented teammates for the sake of winning multiple rings. It took three players teaming up for it to happen.
For the case of Durant, it’s simple. Golden State not only had a great team that he could join with, but there was a culture of winning and selflessness that he did not exactly find in Oklahoma City. He felt it was in Golden State’s free-flowing environment where he would perform best.
What we can then get from those two cases is how Miami and Golden State already had something great in hand in order to land those stars. The Heat had Wade, who recruited Bosh, which then led to James taking his talents to South Beach. The Warriors had a team that went 73-9, an amazing culture, which led to Durant writing his next chapter in Oakland. It ended up well for them, as they both became champions because of their decisions.
With that in mind, without mentioning things like, “Oh, we’re the Lakers!” or, “Los Angeles is a highly marketable city”, do the Lakers have a shot at getting big stars? Right now, it just isn’t that likely.
The Lakers are a rebuilding team who have a number of young pieces who could do great things for them. Take note. Young. Which means these players are by no means equipped to win multiple titles. In that case, would you think players like James, Wall or Cousins, ones who want a championship NOW, would want to wait for Ingram and Ball to develop? Don’t count on it. NBA stars today are hungry for titles, and they aren’t willing to wait for these young guns to develop.
Does that mean that the Lakers have no chance in hell at landing a star, ever? That’s totally false. For one, there’s that tiny sliver of hope where Cousins, Wall, James and George decide to team up, take huge pay cuts and join forces to the Lakers.
Second, as mentioned before, the Lakers have something great in their young core. Fans should instead focus on cheering on guys like Ball and Ingram, two guys who could turn into legitimate all stars in three to four years. Other than those two, LA has Julius Randle, Larry Nance and a bunch of other pieces on board. Laker fans, you have a talented group of young players you can cheer on. Focus on that, because down the line, developing those guys is going to be worth it for Laker Land. And who knows? Once those guys develop and a winning culture starts to pop up thanks to Luke Walton, Rob Pelinka and Magic Johnson, the chance at getting those big stars could open.
Just not right now.
Stars want to win, and to be frank about it, trying to win in Los Angeles with a bunch of players two years removed from college Basketball isn’t an appetizing thing to look at. Players today are smarter. They recognize that if they want to win, going to a team that is marketable and a big name isn’t enough. Things such as advanced statistics and analytics simply give players the knowledge of where one’s best situation can be. At this point, LA just isn’t the best destination that there is.
The concept of the #FutureLaker is dead, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t any hope for LA. There is, and it starts with the young core which the team has in place. It will take some time before that core starts to rack up victories, but down the line, everything will be worth it.
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