Lakers Rumors: How Free-Agency Strategy Affects 2014 Pursuit of LeBron James

Justin OnslowContributor IIJuly 14, 2013

MIAMI, FL - JUNE 20:  LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat celebrates after defeating the San Antonio Spurs 95-88 to win Game Seven of the 2013 NBA Finals at AmericanAirlines Arena on June 20, 2013 in Miami, Florida. 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 Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers have never been a team to shy away from major offseason signings. While Dwight Howard exited just as quickly as he arrived, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see general manager Mitch Kupchak brush it off and look for another superstar next offseason.

And as Alex Kennedy of Hoopsworld reported last month, that’s exactly what he plans on doing:

It comes as no surprise the Lakers could be planning a free-agency coup to land LeBron James next summer, providing he opts out of the final year of his current contract with the Miami Heat. Every general manager in the league would love to land the NBA’s preeminent player—though, as we’ve seen time and again, only the most attractive free-agent landing spots are going to be in play for the best player in basketball.

Kupchak understands that, and he’s doing everything he can right now to prepare for the pursuit. As noted by Arash Markazi of ESPN, the GM is playing it safe this offseason to put the Lakers in contention for James next summer:

That strategy has included cutting ties with Metta World Peace and signing a few role players to short-term contracts, effectively freeing up cap space for next offseason.

As noted by SportsCenter, Los Angeles added Howard’s replacement in Chris Kaman to a one-year deal:

Likewise, Nick Young signed on a one-year deal, as reported by Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register:

And now the Lakers have inked Wesley Johnson to a short-term contract, per Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times:

Short-term contracts are par for the course at this stage of free agency, and it isn’t as if Kupchak is reinventing the game with his strategy. What he is doing, however, paints a very clear picture of what his plans are for next summer.

Howard is gone, Kobe Bryant is on the shelf for the foreseeable future and Steve Nash was often injured last season. With World Peace no longer on the roster, the core of last year’s roster is almost entirely dismantled.

While such a strategy could put the Lakers at a disadvantage when James looks at his free-agency options next summer, Los Angeles will always be an appealing landing spot for marquee free agents. There’s nothing surprising about any of this.

What is surprising, however, is the fact that James may not be all that interested in Los Angeles right now.

Stephen A. Smith appeared on ESPN Radio recently and touched on a rumor he has heard involving James’ current preferences, claiming the superstar will consider all his options, but that he is more likely to end up with the New York Knicks or Cleveland Cavaliers.

Of course, we’re speculating on a situation that won’t fully develop until next summer, so expectations should be tempered.

The bottom line, though, is this: The Los Angeles Lakers know they must retool and prepare for the pursuit of James next offseason. Kupchak is doing everything he has to do right now to make that happen.

Time will tell if the strategy pays off, but there’s little more Kupchak can do at this point. James may have been lured to Miami with promises of superstar teammates and championships, but the Lakers have always been capable of making those promises, even if they haven’t put all those pieces in place this offseason.