In the last several offseasons, the Los Angeles Lakers have notably struck out in their pursuit of top free agents. It has become a normality through this current rough patch in team history where they are on pace to miss the playoffs for a franchise-worst fourth straight season.
In light of that, ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne has detailed that part of their problem in that regard may stem from general manager Mitch Kupchak‘s continued decision to wait until the official start of free agency to communicate with players.
According to sources close to the situation, Magic has already heard from agents and executives from other teams that Kupchak’s deliberate style can be frustrating to deal with and has probably cost the Lakers in free agency in recent years, missing out on a list of names that includes Isaiah Thomas, Kent Bazemore, Kyle Lowry, Ed Davis, Trevor Ariza, Pau Gasol and Eric Gordon.
Thomas, now an MVP candidate and two-time All Star with the Boston Celtics, told Grantland’s Zach Lowe in 2014, “I always envisioned myself playing with the Lakers,” but they were “waiting on Carmelo [Anthony] and other moves.” So Thomas took a new four-year, $28 million deal with the Phoenix Suns (via a sign-and-trade with the Sacramento Kings). The same year, the Lakers expressed interest in Lowry but told him they preferred to wait on Anthony before making their best offer to him. Lowry ended up re-signing with the Toronto Raptors while the Lakers were waiting on Anthony, who ultimately chose to stay in New York.
Said one player agent, who has dealt with Kupchak on several contracts, “He’s the only GM in the league who won’t engage at all before 9:01 p.m. [PT] on the first night of free agency. Then when he calls to express interest, there’s no stickiness to it.”
The Lakers’ decision to take the more calculated path has cost them multiple opportunities to add some much-needed star power in free agency. Their focus on nearly unattainable targets such as Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, and DeAndre Jordan has led to them missing out other players like Isaiah Thomas, and Kyle Lowry, who are both now premier point guards in the league.
However, a sudden change in mindset over this past summer convinced Kuphak to commit a combined $136 million over the next four seasons to Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng, who are both in their early 30s. In fact, Los Angeles drastically overbid to both veterans to get them to agree to deals.
What these revelations signals more than anything else is that there may be a much greater need to shake up things in order to help the franchise get back to prominence. It’s also clear that Magic Johnson has already taken many measures toward inquiring about what change should be made.