Before I get started, let me just say that the Lakers had a fantastic 2017 offseason. Magic Johnson killed it in his first offseason as general manager. Lonzo Ball is looking like the star he’s hyped up to be, Kyle Kuzma is looking like a draft day steal, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is a consistent double digit scorer. Magic also opened up cap space for monster 2018 free agents by letting go of Timofey Mozgov’s contract.
Sounds like a very productive offseason, which it was. But the spontaneity of Mitch Kupchak in 2016 prevented the Laker’s 2017 offseason from being perfect.
I remember it pretty clearly, the last moments of June 30th, 2016. I was watching the minutes pass by, waiting for July 1st, the opening of the NBA’s free agency. The clock finally struck 12, and I was shocked when I saw the first “Woj Bomb” (NBA reporter Adrian Wojnarowski is usually first to report trade deals, which he does via Twitter. His updates are called “Woj Bombs”.) was Timofey Mozgov to Lakers for 4 years, $64 million.
$16 million annually to the guy who averaged 6 points and 4 rebounds in the regular season?! $16 million annually to the guy who averaged 1 point and 2 rebounds in the Finals?! That guy?!
The rest of the basketball world was just as shocked as I was. The one justification that I saw, however, was that Cleveland’s small-ball style didn’t suit the 7’1” Mozgov. Regardless of “the system”, the Mozgov deal was too risky, period. And it’s come back to bite LA.
Magic Johnson accomplished the three things that the Lakers realistically wanted to accomplish this offseason; draft Lonzo Ball, clear cap space for next summer’s free agents, and add another decent scorer. Check, check, and check. Lonzo looks great. LA looks poised to get one of Russell Westbrook or Paul George, and even has an outside chance at names like LeBron James and DeMarcus Cousins. Pope should add value off the bench.
There’s just one caveat. Kupchak’s Mozgov deal last summer forced the Lakers to trade away one of their crown jewels, D’Angelo Russell, in order to part ways with Moz’s horrific contract. Magic was high on Russell, but when he had a chance to let go of Mozgov and his contract, he couldn’t say no.
Laker Nation: I’m looking forward to being a mentor to D’Angelo Russell on and off the court.
— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) May 2, 2016
While Russell does play point guard, Lonzo’s position, he plays more of the role of shooting guard, at least stylistically. They’d 100% be able to coexist. In limited minutes, D-Russ was able to provide the scoring punch that the Lakers hoped he’d provide when they drafted him.
I myself don’t rate Russell as highly as I rate, say, Devin Booker, but statistically, they’re two very similar players, especially when you look at their per 36-minute averages.
Given what he had to work with, Magic pulled off an offseason for the ages for Los Angeles, which can prove to be even more legendary if the Lakers pull one or two monster free agents in 2018’s pool due to their newfound cap space. But it didn’t come without a price. Because of Mitch Kupchak’s spontaneity, the Lakers lost D’Angelo Russell in the process. The one that got away.