The year was 2010. Kobe Bryant was sprinting around the court hugging everyone wearing a Lakers jersey as purple and gold confetti rained down to celebrate the Lakers’ 16th title. Seven years later, and that closest LA has gotten to that point is going through whatever ESPN Classics may be playing. This summer, they finally had the chance to land the big star to put them back on the map in Paul George. They would have the first star since the Kobe era ended years ago, a player who could single-handedly put the team in the playoff hunt, and the man who could lure future free agents to head to Hollywood to team up with him. Then, they blew it.
June 18th, 2017. That’s when the Lakers’ window of the future officially opened. Sure, they had three consecutive No. 2 picks in a row coming in the forms of a snitch, a skeleton with a mop on it’s head, and LaVar Ball’s son, but it wasn’t the same type of promise for a bright future that came from a simple Woj Bomb.
Sources: All-Star Paul George tells Pacers he plans to leave franchise in 2018 free agency, prefers Lakers. https://t.co/anP4bvbwir
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 18, 2017
Right there, that’s everything the Lakers needed to hear. A perennial All Star was interested in the Lakers, the type of go-to player the majority of teams across the NBA would love. For all of you who aren’t acting like this is a huge deal because the Lakers are known for attracting free agents, LA gave $136 million to Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov a summer ago. Those are the kind of signings even the Kings’ front office calls stupid.
The Lakers didn’t have the money for George, but they immediately began clearing space. Days later, they sent Russell packing along with Mozgov’s albatross of a contract for Brook Lopez, who’s deal would expire after the 2017-18 season. It’s hard to digest both the Nets’ and the Lakers’ front office making the right move in the same trade, but it did happen. Getting rid of someone you drafted second overall just two years ago is tough to swallow, but in the grand scheme of things, making way for George was the right move.
All was bright in Laker Land. A hometown superstar was practically on his way to LA after making as obvious as humanly possible that he wanted to don the purple and gold. Jack Nicholson had a reason to sit in his seats at Staples Center again, basketball would once more become more exciting than the pool of who D’Angelo Russell would rat out next, and we could finally stop talking about Lob City.
Then, on July 1st, that dream died.
Paul George has been traded to OKC, per sources
— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) July 1, 2017
That sound you heard was everyone in Los Angeles collectively throwing up when they heard Danilo Gallinari would be the best scorer in LA next year.
For some reason, no one seems to realize just how bad this move was for the Lakers. Some even called it a best case scenario, figuring George would just stroll to the Lakers after a season in Oklahoma City. In what world is allowing what was once perceived as the future face of your franchise to go to Oklahoma City, the home of the Most Valuable Player in the league? Giving up nothing for George definitely sounds better than trading for him, but let me drop this riddle on you: what’s worse, trading picks and pieces to guarantee a star comes home, or mortgaging a potential star of the league in Russell for the chance of signing that said star, while ending up with nothing?
Don’t worry Lakers fans, you don’t have to answer the riddle. You can just wait until 2018 and see it yourself.
— The Crossover (@TheCrossover) July 12, 2017
You know what “It’s too early for L.A.” means? It means LaVar Ball can grab a Laker jersey before I do.
How in the world can it be “too early for L.A.” when mere days earlier he announced he wanted to be a Laker? Was it too early to become a Laker then? Instead, the idea of playing with Russell Westbrook is already deeply implanted in his head. That sounds way better than dealing with the media asking you why LaVar Ball tried to chokeslam you through the court when you took the last shot instead of his son.
Now instead of the idea of going home, George sounds pretty set with teaming with stars. Another franchise’s dream killed by a superteam.
— The Crossover (@TheCrossover) July 11, 2017
Instead of trading for him, extending him, and dumping off pieces to bring a guy in next year, the Lakers have to have a piece in place before George even considers signing with them. Even though Los Angeles does have newly acquired Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Lopez coming off the books next season, it’s not enough to sign both George and another superstar. That brings up the question, why did the Lakers sit around and start high-fiving each other like they won something instead sending a package to the Pacers? Of course, the price was too high, considering it was anything over zero.
— NESN (@NESN) June 30, 2017
It’s hard to imagine the price being too high when he was traded for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. The Lakers could’ve matched that in their sleep by even offering the same deal they sent to the Nets plus Julius Randle, but they would’ve rathered wait until 2018 when their “master plan”, which is really the words “Paul George for free?” written on a cocktail napkin by Magic Johnson, was set in motion. Does George sound like a guy who’s ready to be the only proven player with a bunch of young guns?
“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.”
This season would’ve been the first time the Lakers had an All Star since Kobe Bryant’s corpse got undeservingly voted in by the fans. Not only does bringing George help the team perform immediately, but it helps their grand plan. George would be able to sign for cheaper with L.A. by retaining his bird rights, and the Lakers would then be able to focus every waking moment from the trade deadline until free agency hits on freeing up space for another star. Now, they get to play the fun game where the entire organization worries if Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram are enough to lure George away from Westbrook.
The bottom line is, the Lakers gambled and they lost before the hand was even played. They put themselves in a hole by setting themselves up to land George, and then didn’t pull the trigger. There are only a handful of true superstars in the league, and Paul George is one of them.
If you’re trading away pieces of the future, you might as well swing and miss instead of not swinging at all. It’s a slow, painful death to an idea that has taken over the brains of Lakers fans like the cast of “Inception” put it there. At least instead of dealing with the continuous rebuild the Lakers chose over trading for George, bandwagon fans can just put their Steph Curry jerseys back on and act like nothing ever happened.