The Los Angeles Lakers might have a great location, a prestigious history and plenty more to boast when attempting to recruit Kevin Durant this summer, but one simple fact remains—they simply might not be good enough.
It’s not hard to see what the Lakers want to do. Quite simple, really—wave one final goodbye to Kobe Bryant, attempt to add another high lottery pick in the draft and then coast a sweeping hand over what looks like a promising young roster and tell a guy like Durant “this is yours for a long time.”
But it might not work.
The Lakers are 13-51. Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder, mid-market team or not, are 43-20, third in the Western Conference behind only a pair of 50-win teams. As Eric Pincus of BasketballInsiders.com writes, the timing simply isn’t right for Durant to join the Lakers:
While the city of Los Angeles and the Lakers’ voluminous, international fanbase are assets, the franchise has not been successful in landing high-level free agents in recent years like LaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre Jordan, Greg Monroe, Carmelo Anthony and James.
Ultimately the timing just wasn’t right, with Kobe Bryant at the tail end of his career and the Lakers’ youth movement still in its infancy.
Bingo. Free agents have avoided Los Angeles like the plague for years and for good reason. Bryant out of the picture helps, but the young core is just that—young. D’Angelo Russell still looks a few years out from being a top-tier distributor and Julius Randle has yet to really take over games like many thought he would.
As the writeup goes on to mention, there is even a way in which the Lakers don’t land a top prospect in the draft this year because if it falls out of the top four the Lakers have to give it away, still paying for the Steve Nash deal all these years later.
One could argue Durant finds the Lakers appealing not only because of the market, but for the fact someone such as Russell Westbrook could join him a year later. But if that’s the aim, why wouldn’t Durant just stick in Oklahoma City and carve out his own legacy? Or if the desire to pair with other players in a historic locale is deep enough, why not go to New York and start winning right away under the guidance of Phil Jackson while playing with Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis?
The Lakers have done the right thing with this rebuild, but it doesn’t guarantee a big-name player like Durant comes to town. While an uncanny rebuild for a franchise accustomed to snapping the fingers and staying in contention, the ideal outcome isn’t always what the Lakers get.
That would be the case here. Durant is going on 28 years old and going from a top team to one that may or may not work out, nice location or not, doesn’t make a ton of sense. Banking on others to join him later on doesn’t, either.
Make no mistake, the Lakers will improve and make some splashes over the next few years. But Durant donning the yellow and acting as a mentor for a rebuild still a few years out won’t happen. Durant has been smart in everything about his career to this point. Ignoring the hype of Los Angeles and doing what’s best for him in the present and down the road means bad things for the Lakers.
The Lakers will continue to come up in the Durant conversation. Legitimacy is another conversation entirely.