Magic Johnson Confident Lakers Can Land 2 Elite Free Agents After Cavs Trade

Alec Nathan@@AlecBNathanFeatured ColumnistFebruary 9, 2018

Magic Johnson, Los Angels Lakers President of Basketball Operations, talks during a news conference at an NBA basketball media day at the UCLA Health Training Center in El Segundo, Calif., Monday, Sept. 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
Chris Carlson/Associated Press

The Los Angeles Lakers opened up two max-salary slots by dealing Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. to the Cleveland Cavaliers at Thursday's trade deadline, and president of basketball operations Magic Johnson is already keen on the team's chances of filling them in free agency.

"I wouldn't have made the move if I wasn't confident," Johnson told reporters Thursday. "Still the same [confidence]. ... We have got to take the next step. I like our core. I love the way Julius [Randle] is playing right now; this is the best I have seen him play. ...

"I don't want to stay where we are. I don't want to be on the outside of the playoffs looking in. We have to take another step, right? So this move allows us to position ourselves to hopefully take that next step."

The NBA's tampering rules state Johnson can't mention specific players by name, but it's become clear the club has its sights set on recruiting LeBron James and Paul George to join forces with Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram this summer.

Whether those efforts will be successful is another question entirely.

James has played his impending free agency close to the vest, and he recently denounced a report from ESPN.com's Chris Haynes that stated he could consider taking a meeting with the Golden State Warriors in the event they clear cap space and open up a max slot for him.

"It's nonsense, and it's a non-story," he told reporters.

George, meanwhile, has showered the Oklahoma City Thunder with praise but stopped short of committing to them long-term.

"I'm happy here. I'm happy with this group," George told USA Today's Sam Amick. "At the end of the season, it's still on my decision on what I need to do for my family. That has nothing to do with my happiness here though. I've been really happy. It's a great organization to be a part of, but again, you know, I don't want people looking at this and [saying] like, 'Hey, because he said it's his happiness at the end of the day [that he's definitely re-signing].'

"I don't know if whether I'm going to L.A. or what I'm going to do this offseason. But I can say I am happy about being here."

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