Free Agency

LeBron James signing marks huge shift in Lakers' free-agency fortunes

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Cavs forward LeBron James (Getty Images)

The Lakers have signed LeBron James. Before we start worrying about what the move means for James and what Los Angeles needs to do next - other than rejoice over the Lance Stephenson signing, of course - just consider a few bits of recent history.

2013: The Lakers enter free agency confident they will keep center Dwight Howard, who had a mostly miserable first season in LA after being traded from Orlando. Howard shocks the Lakers by going to Houston, though. The Lakers' big signings instead are Jordan Farmar, Nick Young, Chris Kaman and Wesley Johnson.

2014: With cap space on hand and a wealth of star players on the board, the Lakers hunker down to chase James, with Mitch Kupchak meeting with agent Rich Paul in Cleveland. James returns to the Cavs. The Lakers also meet with Knicks star Carmelo Anthony, who returns to New York. The Lakers come close to landing Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry, but Lowry decides to return to Toronto. The Lakers lose Pau Gasol to the Bulls, and wind up re-signing Jordan Hill and Nick Young.

2015: The Lakers suffer a major embarrassment when news of their meeting with LaMarcus Aldridge goes public, as insiders say star Kobe Bryant showed up in sweatpants and the Lakers did not offer much of a direct basketball-centered pitch to Aldridge, who was turned off and ultimately signed with San Antonio. The Lakers were also interested in Greg Monroe, who signed instead with the Bucks. LA takes on Roy Hibbert's contract in a trade, and signs Lou Williams and Brandon Bass.

2016: Perhaps throwing in the towel on the embarrassment of missing out on big free agents, the Lakers give overwrought deals to lightly-recruited free agents Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov.

2017: The Lakers have interest in free-agent point guard George Hill, but Hill signs on with the Kings. The Lakers give a one-year, $18 million deal to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

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Sure Not Now

The recent record of the Lakers in free agency, then, has been one of either spectacular failure or modest failure rooted in a desire to avoid the spectacular. They've been an embarrassment in pitch meetings - when Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak were in charge, at least - and that was reflected by their inability to close deals with top-level players the way the franchise had done with the likes of Shaquille O'Neal and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

The signing of James, even without a significant roster overhaul in place, represents a shift for the Lakers under new honchos Rob Pelinka and Magic Johnson. The Lakers have had a dreadful time getting big-name players into LA, and in many cases - Howard, Anthony, Monroe - they were fortunate to miss out on guys who did not deliver up to the level of their contracts.

But the arrival of James, despite Paul George staying in Oklahoma City and outside suitors making offers for Spurs star Kawhi Leonard, marks the return of the Lakers as a free-agent haven, a status they'd lost completely in the past decade.

Just look at whom they wanted and whom they signed in the last five years, after all. James represents the first star-level player the Lakers actually signed in free agency since getting O'Neal in 1996.

There are indications as of Sunday night that Leonard has not backed off the notion that he wants to be traded to the Lakers, despite some confidence from the Sixers that the team could re-sign him. If Leonard is dead-set on joining James, then this summer will be among the greatest in Lakers history.

Historically, that's saying a lot. But crammed into recent history, when the Lakers were such a free-agent non-factor, it's saying a ton.

All signings will not be official until the end of the NBA moratorium period on July 6. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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