In a rather early first-round exit for the Lakers, numerous questions now loom upon Rob Pelinka and the organization to work out kinks in their system, and most importantly, find the right players to fit around LeBron and AD.
Let’s start with the major changes Rob Pelinka administered to the team last offseason, starting with Montrezl Harrell. I’ve always been a Montrezl Harrell fan, as his high motor and offensive skillset will catch your eye. The Lakers, however, spent their entire mid-level exception for Harrell, who struggles on the defensive end. A key difference between the Lakers of this season versus the Lakers of last season is the center position. Last season, Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee, both defensively centered players who also rebound at a high level. Harrell is capable of rebounding well, but his defense is simply not on the level of Howard and McGee.
Secondly, the Lakers traded Danny Green for Dennis Schroder. They thought they were going to be acquiring a defensively centered point guard that could be a solid catch-and-shoot option from three. Well, we’ve seen how Schroder’s three-point shot has progressed in Los Angeles, as he rattled off 3.5 per game at a 33.5% clip. His defense hasn’t been anything more than above average, nothing special. The Lakers thought they were acquiring a possible franchise point guard to play alongside LeBron. That’s not even close to what happened and now whether Schroder will sign is up in the air.
Next up, let’s discuss the Lakers cap situation. Through the next season, LeBron James ($41.2M), Anthony Davis ($35.4M), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope ($13M), Kyle Kuzma ($13M), Marc Gasol ($2.7M), plus Montrezl Harrell and Talen Horton-Tucker on player options and Alfonzo McKinnie on a non-guaranteed contract. Also, their number 22 over pick will cost $2.5M, and their dead cap salary a.k.a. Luol Deng, will cost another $5M. Solely the guaranteed players, the pick, and the dead salary equate to $114,635,737. The projected cap for next season is $112.4M and the Lakers have already surpassed that without fulfilling the excess of their roster. This prevents them from acquiring players through sign-and-trade exchanges, however, using their lower exception, they are capable of paying as much as they need to re-obtain their free agents. This is key as they have quite a few.
Now, let’s address the positional and talent requirements of the Lakers. Well, there’s always the lack of consistent shooting. They finished 21st in the league for three-point shooting (35.4%) during the regular season, and as a team could only knock down 32.1% of their wide-open three-pointers during round one against Phoenix. With Anthony Davis insisting on playing the PF position, the Lakers are at a disadvantage with a big next to him. Another issue they need to address is adding another ball-handler/playmaker. This past season, the Lakers didn’t have a player who could dribble without getting the ball stolen consistently while also providing the team with dependable playmaking. The Lakers demand a top-tier playmaker so that LeBron can play the PF spot and Anthony Davis can play the C spot. We remember how good the Lakers can be with AD playing center (11.8 points per 100 possessions better), but the Lakers’ net rating is 20 points higher per 100 possessions when LeBron plays power forward (per CTG). Just something to keep in mind. I’m not sure if Rob Pelinka assumed that Schroder was going to be this option, because he certainly hasn’t, and with the uncertainty of Schroder even returning to the team for next season, the Lakers need to be in search of a free agent signing or trade alternative to acquire this sort of player. One last point I have is from an NBA analyst regarding player personnel. I chose to include this in my article because I couldn’t agree with it more. Amidst the Lakers’ 2020 championship run, they had guys accepting their role and playing it well. They had Dwight Howard, an 8-time all-star and all-NBAer, accepting his role as strictly a rebounder, defender, and screener. They had JaVale McGee, who accepted his role of backup center and did his job as a rebounder, defender, and screener. They had Kuzma, who thinks of himself as an iso scorer, accepting his role as a defender and rebounder. This season, they had Schroder, who thinks awful highly of himself, publicly requesting a starting job was only the beginning. Andre Drummond needed to be promised the starting position for him to sign. Lastly, Marc Gasol not accepting and therefore complaining about the role of third-string center was the last of the action.
With the majority of the needs explained, let’s highlight the players that exhibit those traits. One of my go-to point guards in the NBA that nobody talks about is Malcolm Brogdon. Brogdon is a member of the 50/40/90 club, believe it or not. It’s a real shame that injuries have taken to him the way they have. If Brogdon could stay healthy consistently, league executives would have Brogdon at the top of their boards. He’s coming off of a $20.7M year with the Pacers, so attaching a salary filler will not be a problem. Last year, Brogdon was the focal point of the Pacers’ offense, averaging 21.2 PPG, 5.9 APG, and 5.3 RPG with 45.3/38.8/86.4 shooting splits.
Next up, Buddy Hield. Everyone is aware of the difficulties that exist between Hield and Luke Walton. It’s been perceived many times before that he wants out and the Lakers are a resounding fit. The trade package would likely consist of Kyle Kuzma, draft picks, and other players, as a Kuzma fit could work well as he would reunite with former coach Walton. Buddy Hield’s contract is also quite hefty. If you haven’t noticed a pattern yet, the Lakers need to acquire a player with a substantial contract amount because of the money they are sending out. Hield, however, is coming off of his worst season yet in the NBA (besides his rookie season), but the coaching in LA plus the mentorship he will absorb from teammates should get him going again. Hield’s defense isn’t the most significant, but his offensive techniques can help drive this team over the hump.
There are a few other options in Terrence Ross, Evan Fournier, Alec Burks, Jerami Grant, Patty Mills, Lou Williams, Derrick Rose, and Myles Turner. Each player possesses a large contract and would mesh well with the team. I’d like to take a deeper look into Myles Turner as he could be a front-runner for this team.
Between Andre Drummond, Montrezl Harrell, and Marc Gasol, you’d think that the Lakers would obtain excellent play from their frontcourt. This was not the case, as their three big men were one of the main factors limiting the power of their offense. The lack of three-point shooting (which isn’t a necessity for big men, but would be nice) and defense at the rim was certainly one of the downfalls. Finishing on the interior was another, as Dennis Schroder proceeded to shoot better at the rim in the playoffs than both Andre Drummond and Montrezl Harrell (Harrell was more reliable throughout the regular season, but if you’re on the Lakers, you have to be prepared to show up in the playoffs). What does Myles Turner provide? Shooting (both from three and the paint) and defense at the rim. Turner also carries a lengthy contract and with the Pacers looking to break up their starting frontcourt, Turner could be one of the preeminent candidates for Los Angeles.
The Lakers cannot allow any of their free agents to walk, and if they can’t get a deal completed now, it will likely have to wait until the deadline. The Lakers ache to return to the championship, and the moves they make now will act as the fate of that aspiration.