For the first time since Kobe Bryant tore his achilles tendon, the Lakers have hope of being a playoff contender. Yes, the roster might be young and inexperienced, and the team is still coming off its fifth straight losing season, but president of basketball operations Magic Johnson has the Lakers in prime position to add some of the sport's biggest stars.
CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 08: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers reacts in the first half against the Golden State Warriors during Game Four of the 2018 NBA Finals at Quicken Loans Arena on June 8, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
1. LeBron James. All due respect to Kevin Durant, but James is the consensus best active player in the NBA. He carried a Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA Finals from the Eastern Conference's fourth seed in 2018. It marked his eighth straight finals appearance, dating back to his first season with the Miami Heat. The Cavaliers' struggling roster, however, has given James an excuse to jettison from Cleveland a second time. He declined a player option on his contract Friday, officially making him a free agent this summer. Reports have heavily linked James to Los Angeles, citing his family's love for living out of their Brentwood mansion and the influence his wife and three children will have on this decision. James would be coming to a less talented team than the ones he signed with in his past two free agency moves, but the Lakers have the salary cap room and assets to improve around him in a way the Cavs do not.
2. Paul George. Almost one year ago, the Indiana Pacers traded George to the Oklahoma City Thunder after the Palmdale native notified the team that he would not sign an extension and reportedly expressed interest in joining the Lakers. The Thunder have reportedly made a strong impression on George despite their first-round playoff loss to the Utah Jazz. The 28-year-old will now have to decide whether to play for his hometown team or stay put where he seems to be comfortable with superstar teammate Russell Westbrook.n
nMuch like James in 2010, George is letting his first free agency be televised on ESPN. He will not make his decision live on air, but will reportedly explain it in the third of the three-part SportsCenter documentary series--and the first two installments have already aired.
3. Kahwi Leonard. Leonard is not a free agent until summer 2019, but much like George last year, Leonard is reportedly trying to force his way to Los Angeles via a trade. The San Antonio Spurs superstar missed all but nine games during the 2017-18 season with a quad injury, and insiders said he clashed with Spurs management on how to handle his rehab. However, Leonard reportedly claims he is 100 percent healthy and is just over a year removed from leading the Spurs to the Western Conference finals and finishing third in MVP voting. Leonard at his full potential is one of the best players in the NBA, and the type of star that could make the Lakers much more appealing to current free agents like James and George.
4. Julius Randle. Randle, who the Lakers made the seventh overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft, blossomed into a talented young scoring forward who can also play tenacious defense. If this were any other offseason, the Lakers would not think twice about re-signing him in restricted free agency, where they can match any offer another team makes. The problem, though, is that the Lakers will not have enough space to sign him if the sign two other players to maximum contracts like George and James. If the Lakers miss out on George and James or are only able to sign one of them, they would have enough space to re-sign Randle. The same applies to whether or not they make a trade for Leonard. If the Lakers' star-chasing proves successful, they should be fine with letting Randle walk. If they strike out, however, or Randle's market dries up to the point where he would accept a cheaper contract, the Lakers can try to keep Randle in the fold.