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With DeMarcus Cousins’ torn Achilles, the increased likelihood of Paul George staying in OKC, and LeBron’s reluctance to join the Lakers without another established star in the rotation, it was no surprise to hear reports that the Lakers were changing their focus to next year's free agency period.
However, their trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers hours before last week's deadline, which saw them bring in Isaiah Thomas and Channing Frye, could mean that they’re not ready to throw in the towel just yet. Regardless, the Lakers have left themselves various avenues to improve the squad, which could prove substantial when many teams are correcting the splurge in contracts players enjoyed over the previous couple of seasons.
The Cavaliers may have acquired young, fresh talent in Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr, but in Thomas and Frye, the Lakers were able to substitute Clarkson’s two-and-a-half-year deal for more expiring contracts, making them fully capable of signing two max players either this summer or the next. This doesn’t necessarily go against their desire to hold out for 2019, but the flexibility it provides them is crucial. Whether the Lakers sign both stars in the same free agency, or one in each, Magic Johnson and co. have given themselves options as they seek to return to the postseason.
Persuading LeBron to come to the west coast with no other stars may be tough, but don’t count out George’s arrival just yet. No matter how much chemistry he has gained with Russell Westbrook in recent weeks, the lure of a hometown team is tough to reject, especially at a franchise with the esteem of the Purple and Gold.
The Lakers' young core is blossoming into one of the hottest teams in the league, going 10-5 in their last 15 encounters, and that’s with Lonzo Ball sidelined with a knee injury. Plus, the fans clearly want him, so much so that some even started a chant for him when OKC travelled to Staples on Thursday.