The 2021-2022 season was rough for the Los Angeles Lakers. LA struggled on the offensive and defensive ends despite LeBron James having one of his most efficient seasons. Russell Westbrook failed to fit in, turning his childhood dream of playing for the Lakers into a nightmare. Anthony Davis‘s injury-plagued season hampered the team all year long. The season can be summed up by lack of continuity, old age, and poor management.
All of this led to the firing of Frank Vogel. Despite leading the Lakers to the 2020 NBA Championship and maintaining a top-five defense in 2020 with LeBron and Davis missing 50% of the games. But hey, that’s what happens when you hire a defensive coach and then strip the roster of all of its defensive talent (Kyle Kuzma, Alex Caruso, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, etc…) to trade for Russell Westbrook.
The Next Head Coach
The Lakers started the offseason with a thorough coaching search. Big names like Doc Rivers, and Quin Synder were mentioned, but they hired first-time head coach Darvin Ham. I personally think this is a great hire. Ham has a ton of experience as an assistant and knows how to manage a talented big man. AD and Giannis Antetokounmpo have a lot of similarities in terms of their defensive abilities. Each player can play as a rim protector and a weak side help defender at a high level.
Offensively Davis isn’t the same level of passer and ball-handler Giannis is, but he offers elite rebounding and scoring. Ham will put Davis in more advantageous positions to score and help develop his playmaking. Coach Ham can also help manage AD’s injuries by adjusting his minutes. Giannis rarely plays more than 32 minutes per game in the regular season. Davis has averaged about 35 minutes a game for his career. I think we will see his minutes come down to about 30 minutes per game.
The To-Do List
- Make a decision on Russel Westbrook
- Add a backup rim protector
- Add secondary playmaker
- Find a 3 and D perimeter defender
- Stay out of the luxury tax
The trade Westbrook scenario
If Rob Pelinka chooses to trade Russell Westbrook no one would blame him. The Russell Westbrook experiment never worked last year. His lack of defensive commitment sabotaged team defensive concepts. Westbrook struggled to get into the paint efficiently all season. Without decent catch and shoot ability, he is a difficult fit next to LeBron and AD.
The pool of trades available to the Lakers is limited due to the size of Westbrook’s contract ($47.1 Million). There are very few opportunities that will actually make the Lakers better. The Indiana Pacers are interested in taking on Russell Westbrook if they can get a pick in exchange.
Indiana Pacers receive: Russell Westbrook and a 2027 1st Round pick
In this trade, the Lakers get two functional pieces to fit around Lebron James and Anthony Davis. Brogdon can serve as a spot-up shooter, defender, and secondary playmaker when LeBron is not on the court. His 6’5″ size gives him the ability to play in big lineups as the PG or small lineups as a SG or SF.
Buddy Hield is a tremendous shooter at 39.8 % for his career (on 7.6 attempts). The Lakers will most likely lose Malik Monk in free agency. LA only has $6.3 million available for free agents. Monk is currently projected to earn in the $8-$10 million range next year. Hield will be a perfect replacement, he has a similar skillset, but a more consistent track record as a shooter.
Get a backup rim protector
While AD was out with injury the Lakers sorely needed a backup rim protector. Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan are a bit long in the tooth for that role. LA needs a rim protector that can be on the floor with AD as well as without.
Los Angeles Lakers Receive: Mohamed Bamba
Orlando Magic Receive: Talen Horton-Tucker
Mo Bamba is a perfect fit next to AD. He offers rim protection when Davis is out and enough 3pt shooting at 38.1% that he can play on the court with him. This will give the Lakers the ability to play AD at PF or C. The dynamic between the two bigs will be very similar to what Ham had with Brook Lopez and Giannis in Milwaukee. With Bamba on the court, Davis can utilize his athleticism as a weak-side defender while Mo protects the rim. This is a strategy often employed by the Celtics with Robert Williams and Al Horford. The Bucks run the same tactic with Giannis and Lopez. Bamba will benefit by playing with a true playmaker like Lebron for the first time in his career.
To complete this trade Orlando will have to sign and trade Bamba for a minimum of three years. He is currently projected to receive between $8-$12 million per year. This lines up perfectly with the Horton-Tucker contract. The Lakers will lose a decent player, but Talen hasn’t quite lived up to the hype coming out of Lakers camp. Rim protection is a more important need for LA than SG. Orlando is loaded with options in the frontcourt so getting a decent wing prospect in exchange for Bamba makes sense.
The Keep Westbrook scenario
If LA decides to keep Westbrook there aren’t many moves that can be made on the roster. They can do the Mo Bamba trade and then look to free agency for more changes. They have a $6.3 million mid-level exception and a $2.3 million minimum contract they can use. I would pass on Monk and bring in a proven 3 and D guy. Someone like Gary Harris, Taurean Prince, Jeremy Lamb, or Joe Ingles. Having a strong perimeter defender is vital to every good defense. After that, Pelinka must find the right mix of veterans, reclamation projects, and youth on minimum contracts to make it all work. The team was too old last year, so bringing in more youth is important. LA needs some young guys who are willing to run the floor and provide energy when the vets are not.
Holding on to Westbrook doesn’t give the team the best shot to win this year, but it gives LA a path to landing a major free agent in the 2023 offseason. 2023 will have one of the most stack lists of free agents in years. Players like Lebron, Kyrie Irving, Nikola Jokic, James Harden, Bradley Beal, Khris Middleton, and many more will be available.
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