Nobody should assume the Lakers will land another elite FA this offseason

Leonard is an All-NBA performer and Finals MVP in his prime who doesn’t believe he should take a back seat to any player. Durant is the only player in the NBA who can lay claim to being better than James. I firmly believe Paul George (who surely had an idea of where James was going) skipped the Lakers in part because the love he’ll receive in perpetuity from Thunder fans for staying in Oklahoma City was more appealing than having his big L.A. homecoming undercut by instant second banana status (with the threat of a third banana looming). Jimmy Butler, it seems, wants to be viewed as at least tied for the title of best player on whatever team he’s on.

Should this stuff matter? Shouldn’t it just be about the rings? Maybe, but consider what can happen when players go that route. Durant chose winning, happiness and a stellar work environment when he joined the Warriors, and huge swaths of the basketball universe have been teepeeing his house ever since. Chris Bosh was a spectacular player who won titles in Miami, yes, but is too often diminished as just a “third guy” in those efforts.

People who have accomplished far less than the planet’s most elite ballers worry just as much about legacy. Nor is the mindset new or unique. (Anyone out there think Kobe Bryant, in his prime, would have agreed to join a team where he wouldn’t be viewed as the best player and give up that influence? Hell no.)

None of this is to say the Lakers can’t or won’t land a wingman for LeBron this summer, though I wouldn’t make them a favorite for Durant, Leonard or Butler. And Klay Thompson ain’t going anywhere. (Ironically, Julius Randle could end up the premier guy once those names are gone.) But with gobs of cap space, motivated ownership, a legacy franchise and the Los Angeles market, the Lakers have plenty to offer. And it’s not like LeBron is automatically a repellant. There is obvious upside to playing with him, too, which players acknowledge throughout Bucher’s story. What these guys articulate, though, is that another big summertime score is hardly a given.

Even if (as it’s widely presumed) the Lakers some way, somehow end up with another star, the difference between acquiring players in free agency and through a trade is hardly academic. The former costs money, but you keep your stuff. The latter, you still pay the salary premium, but you lose the assets. Those assets, as teams spend over the cap and draft too low to reliably pipe in new talent, are critical to rounding out a championship roster. Young ones particularly are very hard to replace.

Whether you like Durant as a messenger, his point is correct. While the Lakers have the right to be confident, nobody should assume another superstar is signing here this summer or the path to the “next guy” will be easy. The notion that LeBron’s presence, like a cornfield in Iowa, would magically draw stars to L.A. was never true to begin with.

Not that they’d ever do it differently (or should want to), but there’s a chance the Lakers were just a little too successful in free agency last season.