Right now, the Lakers playoff odds sit anywhere between <0.1% to 2% to make the playoffs, but either way, things look exceptionally bleak. Despite essentially wasting a year of LeBron James’ prime, Los Angeles still has The King under contract at minimum two more seasons (he has a player option for 2021-22). While the team did deal with injuries this year, it’s clear that the lackluster team composition was the most significant contributor to their disappointing performance. But what can the Lakers do this offseason to bolster their roster?
The LeBron Championship Formula
James has made the NBA Finals nine times in his career, and each time his team composition followed a specific formula. Save for the 2007 Cavaliers, LeBron found the most success when he had a secondary ball-handler and shot creator at the guard spot (Dwyane Wade, Kyrie Irving), as well as shooters around the perimeter. LeBron’s teams that made it to the NBA Finals were always above league average at three-point shooting. In fact, during his eight-year run of making the NBA Finals, the worst his team ever ranked in three-point percentage was 12th (and every other team was in the top ten). The graph below illustrates the win percentages of LeBron’s teams as compared to their three-point percentages. Obviously, teams that shoot better tend to win more, however, the graph illustrates that LeBron plus shooters is a winning formula.
The Lakers rank 28th in three-point percentage this season, and their free agent signings certainly didn’t help. None of JaVale McGee, Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson or Michael Beasley are great shooters, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has been below average and rather streaky all year from behind the arc. When combined with the lack of shooting and defense on the existing roster, it was a recipe for disaster.
The Lakers Roster This Summer
This offseason, the Lakers have seven players still under contract: LeBron James, Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart, Moritz Wagner and Isaac Bonga. Of the seven, only the first five get significant playing time, while the latter two have scarcely played. The team also owes Luol Deng roughly $5 million for the next couple years, so they’ll have a little over $66 million on the books for the 2019-20 season. The projected salary cap is roughly $109 million, giving the team about $43 million to sign free agents this summer.
Ideally, the Lakers would like to use most of this space to offer a max contract to the likes of a Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler, Kyrie Irving or Tobias Harris, however for the purposes of this article we’ll assume that none of these players wants anything to do with the Lakers. Instead, we’ll look at how the Lakers can build with either a second-tier star or no stars altogether.
Free Agent Targets
Secondary Shot Creator
In terms of a reliable secondary shot creator, the Lakers have a few options if they can’t get any of the superstars on the market. They might choose, however, to wait until the end of the season to see how Brandon Ingram performs. In 26 games since the new year, he’s putting up 20.5 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.6 assists on 51.5% from the field. If he continues to develop, the Lakers could forgo signing a new second fiddle to LeBron.
A second option would be D’Angelo Russell, the former Laker and current All-Star for the Nets. D’Lo is a restricted free agent, however, and it’s uncertain whether he would want to come back to the team that got rid of him. Potential conflict aside, he’s putting up 20.4 points, 3.6 rebounds and 6.8 assists and he’s shot the ball well from deep. As a guard with excellent offense and average defense, he’d fit well next to Lonzo Ball who is rather average offensively and excellent defensively.
Russell would likely run the Lakers upwards of $20 million per year (or even a max contract), so if Los Angeles was looking for a cheaper option, they might look to someone like Malcolm Brogdon or Bojan Bogdanovic. Brogdon is a great ballhandler and finisher, and he’s lethal from deep. Given more shot attempts, he could be averaging at least 20 points per game. He is a restricted free agent as well, however, and the Bucks will likely fight to keep him. Bogdanovic is another lights out shooter, and he could serve as a more affordable Klay Thompson (albeit without the elite defense) for the Lakers. Each player is likely looking for a contract somewhere between $15 million and $17.5 million for something long term, or something shorter with a higher average annual value.
Bron + Shooters
There are several excellent shooters on the market this summer, and the table below illustrates their three-point makes and attempts per game, as well as their three-point percentage.
Among these names, the cheapest shooting can probably be acquired by retaining Reggie Bullock and going after Seth Curry and Wayne Ellington. They can easily get some affordable bench shooting for 15 to 20 minutes per game with Darius Miller as well.
Patrick Beverly, Al-Farouq Aminu and Trevor Ariza offer the best defense of the shooters on the market. Of those three, Ariza is the least enticing option given his age and shooting regression this year. Allen Crabbe is another underrated free agent, but he likely won’t turn down his ludicrous $18 million player option.
Marcus Morris and Terrence Ross would also be solid pick-ups, however it’s unlikely that either would start on the Lakers, so they may sign elsewhere as a result.
The last hole that the Lakers need to fill is at the center slot. Between JaVale McGee, an aged Tyson Chandler and an undersized Kyle Kuzma, the Lakers hemorrhage points in the paint. On the season they rank 24th in the league, allowing a whopping 51.1 points in the paint per game.
To be frank, their best two options are former players that they passed on last offseason. Julius Randle went to the Pelicans for less than $9 million per year, and while he has a player option, it would be in his best interest to decline the option and seek a longer-term deal. On the year he’s averaging 20.7 points, 8.9 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game, and there’s no reason he can’t do it again next year in purple and gold (unless of course he feels slighted by the organization).
The other center that the Lakers let walk, Brook Lopez, would have alleviated much of the Laker’s problems this year. He’s a stretch five averaging 2.2 blocks per game, which addresses L.A.’s needs for three-point shooting and paint protection. He has an excellent situation in Milwaukee however, and he might be more inclined to stay.
If the Lakers wanted to run a high intensity, two-man center rotation, they might also look to pick up two of Kenneth Faried, Ed Davis, Dewayne Dedmon, Cheick Diallo (RFA) and JaVale McGee. While Faried and Diallo are both a bit undersized, both bring a lot of energy and are monsters on the glass. McGee gets gassed rather quickly, but he’s a good choice for 15-20 minutes per game. Dedmon is a solid all-around center that can even stretch the floor a bit. Finally, Ed Davis’ ability to grab an insane number of rebounds in very little playing time is massively valuable as well.
A third option for the Lakers would be to throw a lot of money at either DeMarcus Cousins or Nikola Vucevic, however for the Laker’s purposes, neither should be paid a max contract. On an affordable deal, however, both are amazing additions.
Featured image courtesy of Al Bello/Getty Images
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