Once the 2015-16 NBA season officially comes to an end for the Los Angeles Lakers, things will start to get interesting for the storied NBA franchise. Kobe Bryant will finally walk away from the game after 20 years in Los Angeles, and the Lakers brass will potentially be armed with more cap space than any team in the league.
With an enormous amount of cap space and Bryant no longer in Los Angeles, general manager Mitch Kupchak and company will set their sights on luring superstar Kevin Durant to the Lakers. Although there will be plenty of teams reaching out to Durant this summer, the Lakers may have an advantage. Stephen A. Smith made an appearance on ESPN 710's Mason and Ireland on Friday and explained why the Lakers may be in an excellent position to bring in Durant in free agency:
"Keep in mind this, one of the biggest reasons I'm told, that Kevin Durant may have the Lakers at the top of his list, is because the Lakers have been led to believe, by whom specifically I do not know, but the Lakers have been led to believe that it is a very good chance that the following year Russell Westbrook is coming."
Durant's future will continue to be a hot topic of discussion with the one-time NBA MVP yet to make a decision publicly about whether he'll re-sign with the Oklahoma City Thunder or seriously consider other teams come July 1.
The Washington Wizards, New York Knicks, and even the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors may make a run at Durant in free agency this summer. The Lakers brass will have their work cut out for them to land the biggest name on the free-agent market, but Smith believes they've got a great chance of getting him to sign long-term via ESPN 710:
"It's a big possibility," Smith said. "It's a big possibility."
As for Westbrook, there's no telling what will happen if Durant does head for Los Angeles in free agency. It's not beyond the realm of possibility that Westbrook likes not having to share the spotlight with Durant and, therefore, stays in Oklahoma City or signs with a team where he'll be the star attraction.
Although being the number one option may be intriguing, Smith says the former UCLA star has no problem returning to Los Angeles:
"Make no doubt about it, Russell Westbrook doesn't have a problem being in L.A."
At this point, the Lakers are on pace to miss the NBA playoffs for a third consecutive season while being on the wrong side of history potentially finishing the year with the franchise's worst record. A trip back to the NBA Draft Lottery seems to be in the team's future.
The Thunder, however, are enjoying flying under the radar in the Western Conference. The San Antonio Spurs and Warriors are getting all the attention as arguably the two best teams in the league while the Thunder hope to secure a high seed in the West and pull off the upset in a seven-game series during the postseason.
Oklahoma City winning an NBA title this season may drastically change Durant's thought process heading into NBA free agency, but as of right now, the Lakers appear to be in the running to sign him in July.