A day after I warned that Complacency could be the Lakers’ biggest threatGeneral Manager Rob Pelinka showed his commitment to shaking things up for the defending champion.
The stars are the same, but much of the cast is completely different. In the first few days of free agency, the Lakers added Wesley Matthews, Marc Gasol and Montrezl Harrell, that trio adds to the trade for Dennis Schröder. They held on Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Markieff Morris but Avery Bradley, Rajon Rondo and Dwight Howard all went elsewhere, while JaVale McGee and Danny Green were traded.
Even if the Lakers only sign minimum contracts the rest of the way (and with a hard cap initiated, they’ll have to look for those deals for the rest of the free agency), they’ve really changed their roster, and probably got a good deal on how they play. Here’s a look at what free agency shows us about what the Lakers were looking for and how things could turn out this season:
1. Scoring was a premium.
Ever since Anthony Davis came to Los Angeles, the Lakers have been looking for a third scorer. It never quite worked out as expected with Kyle Kuzma, who averaged 12.8 points but failed to crack 20 points in a playoff game. So what the Lakers did was grab a third and fourth scorer, the two highest-scoring bench players in the league last season.
It’s a really intriguing idea. Obviously, last season’s scoring numbers won’t be exactly what happens next season, given the touches of the ball and the limitations on the number of shots anyone can take (James, Davis, Schröder and Harrell themselves would score 89 points per game).
But on violation, the Lakers give themselves more leeway (by getting Howard and McGee out of the picture) and more leeway for when James (who turns 36 next month) or Davis have nights off. This could literally translate into Schröder and Harrell getting up when James and Davis are resting, or there is a positive coronavirus test stopping the All-Stars from playing for an extended period of time.
It’s also important to note that Harrell and Schröder can play with their superstar teammates, as well as insult themselves. Aside from being a 42 percent catch-and-shoot three-point weapon, Schröder’s real gift is to attack slower defenders from the dribble and end up at the edge – a younger, more spirited version of what Rajon Rondo was able to do at times last season. Harrell is a good pick and roll partner and screener, but he’s also good at attacking the offensive glass for second chance points (seventh in the NBA last year). Fans can expect more activity on fouls when James or Davis have to go on the couch.
2. The main players will be younger.
OK, so Matthews and Gasol are not spring chickens. Chances are, either or both of them are not the players they were last season. But more importantly, one of the oldest rosters in the league features key figures who are younger and thus more in line with the franchise’s Anthony Davis era.
Davis is 27. Schröder is 27. Harrell is 26. Caldwell-Pope is 27. Kuzma, who could get a contract extension in the next month, is 25. Alex Caruso is 25. While you have veterans on this team who are still inside Being James’ generation, there is a clear front-office acknowledgment that the Lakers must be turning to younger, in-their-prime cast members they may be able to re-sign after their current deals end.
The Lakers are still working out the length of Davis’s maximum salary contract. While only Davis knows the forces at play in deciding whether to want short- or long-term leverage, Pelinka has the power to point to the roster and how it can continue to grow with and with him in the years to come. It’s been a subtle shift to move away from Green (33), Rondo (34), Howard (34), McGee (32) and Bradley (29), but it changes the whole tone of the organization’s upcoming seasons into one time when they won. They don’t have many of their design choices.
3. There are big questions about defense.
Whether you thought they could shoot or not, there is a lot of collective defensive talent and knowledge from the group that just left. Coaches raved about Rondo’s head before the game. Green and Bradley were budding leaders of the line-up that could generate sales with anticipation. Howard rediscovered much of his old physicality, and McGee was a pure bullet swatter.
Schröder and Harrell have significant gaps in the defense, small for their respective positions and sometimes criticized for lack of discipline. Harrell’s match with Nuggets All-Star center Nikola Jokic was a big reason the Clippers couldn’t close their playoff series against Denver. Schröder saw his defensive numbers improve last season, but he also played in lineups alongside very good defensive players in Oklahoma City. Gasol and Matthews have excellent defense records, but they are getting older.
It will be more difficult to stay ahead of the Western Conference’s elite guards, and Caldwell-Pope, Matthews and probably Caruso will have to do a lot of work to stay consistent on that side of the court. Davis, ranked number two for NBA Defensive Player of the Year last season, helps a lot to clean up, especially during the playoffs, but the Lakers are likely on their way to a slide after being one of the toughest defensive units in the West last year.
4. It will be more difficult to move during the season to change the selection.
When the Lakers traded McGee over the weekend, they recorded a second round in 2026 to sweeten the pot for Cleveland. In a way, it shows how far the Lakers have to reach to be able to take advantage of concept picks at all, as their assets have been burned out over the past 18 months in the Davis and Schröder deals.
If the Lakers don’t like the way things go in the regular season before the trade deadline, it can be hard to get a deal for a better price. The contract that arguably has the most trade value is Schröder ($ 15.5 million), which they just acquired. The number of minimum contracts on the roster and the low salary number for Kuzma ($ 3.5 million) make it difficult to pool enough assets to trade for someone of value.
The Lakers will also fall below the $ 138.9 million hard cap due to the exceptions they have used to build their roster – after taking into account Davis’s maximum deal and veteran minimums to fill out the roster, they have a very small margin below that ceiling, maybe less than $ 1 million dollars. They may be able to make minimal deals in the buyout market, but on the surface it seems challenging to make adjustments in the season.
5. It could be a foundation – or a one-year experiment.
Pay attention to the length of the contracts: only one player is locked until 2023 (KCP). Caruso, Kuzma and Talen Horton-Tucker will be under team control this summer and possibly beyond. Harrell and Gasol have two-year deals, and Harrell can unsubscribe after one year. Schröder expires next summer.
The Lakers were able to re-sign some of these players. Or they could blow up the roster next summer if it doesn’t work out. So does James and Davis themselves: James has a player option next summer (worth $ 41 million, possibly a difficult figure to pass). Davis could choose to sign a one-on-one contract, giving himself an option for next year as well (if you’re wondering why that is, ask yourself who Davis and James are on the free market could pick up next year with some contract restructuring).
It’s way too early to say what will happen next summer, especially before Davis decides what deal to sign. But Pelinka, while improving the roster, has given himself out in several ways if this group is somehow not working together. It’s a sign that the Lakers are rejoining their station as a top destination for free agents, assuming that if they can’t agree with returnees or don’t want to, there will be other free agents to choose from next summer. . They don’t offer much long-term security right now, and that’s insurance if they want to run next year.
The Lakers spent a decade slowly building the concept, and while it led to the assets that eventually helped them acquire Davis from New Orleans, it wasn’t a particularly rewarding process in the winning department. Now another retreat of two superstars, the Lakers have rediscovered their natural advantage as a destination market, and Pelinka appears to be planning on making the most of that every summer, keeping options open should the Lakers take a new direction.