The future of the Los Angeles Lakers will be in the hands of Anthony Davis this offseason. Davis is entering the offseason with a $28.75M player option. It’s not likely that Davis accepts that option, knowing the type of contract offers he’ll be receiving as an unrestricted free agent.
There are benefits for him if he were to accept the player option. Accepting the player option would allow Davis to go for an even larger contract the following offseason, as the cap will be rising yet again. Also, depending on how the Lakers finish this season (with a title or a deep run), Davis can look to go 1 more year with LeBron in pursuit of a title before LeBron seemingly hits his decline.
Along with Davis’ player option are 4 other player options that the Lakers will be facing. Other player options: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope ($8.49M), Avery Bradley ($5.01M), JaVale McGee ($4.20M), & Rajon Rondo ($2.62M). We can expect at least 3 of the 4 to accept their player options (Caldwell-Pope, Bradley, & McGee) while Rondo may look to get more money in Free Agency.
Besides those player options, the Lakers have 1 other impending free agent they may want to see return… Dwight Howard. Howard should be looking to get a pay raise from his measly $1.62M contract, after performing at a high level in a ‘prove-it’ year with the Lakers. Retaining Howard and Davis will be the Lakers’ key moves this offseason.
If the Lakers want to be contenders once again, they’ll need Davis to accept his player option. They’ll also have to look deep into Free Agency to find backcourt help to relieve LeBron of his playmaking duties a bit. Though they won’t have much money to offer, they can attract free agents with Championship aspirations.
If LA wants to continue to compete with the other contending teams, they need to bolster their rotation with a combination of vets willing to accept being role players.
The Usual Suspects
In the past few seasons, we’ve seen the same veteran players on the open market, looking to join contending teams. These guys are who the Lakers should be targeting to fill out their rotation…
Carmelo Anthony will once again be on the market. Is he an ideal fit next to LeBron and Davis? No. Is he friends with LeBron and someone who will add to the Championship talks? Yes. Though Melo isn’t a seamless fit for the team and doesn’t fill a huge need, signing him would help the team’s bench as long as he’s willing to accept that role… again.
Kyle Kuzma’s role as the go-to bench threat has not gone as planned, so why not fill that role with a veteran with a chip on his shoulder?
Melo and Kuzma off the bench can lead to feast or famine games with minimal defensive efforts, but when they catch fire, the Lakers will be tough to stop.
Re-signing Howard has become a must for the Lakers. He’s proven to be a valuable player this season after 7.5 PPG, 7.4 RPG, and 1.2 BPG on 73.2% shooting from the field, in only 19.2 MPG off the bench.
Having him behind McGee has given the Lakers a great big man rotation to relieve Davis from playing C (Davis played only 32% of his minutes at C; lowest since his 3rd season in New Orleans).
If the Lakers can somehow convince Howard to return on a Mid-Level deal, they’d be huge winners in the offseason.
If Dwight Howard walks and the Lakers want to keep Anthony Davis happy, taking a 2nd shot at DeMarcus Cousins will be an option. Cousins hasn’t played over 50 games in over 3 seasons now. After several serious leg injuries, who knows what type of player he will be (if he can remain on the court). With that said, he still serves as, quite arguably, the best option for the Lakers to replace Howard.
Cousins wouldn’t be expected to become the 20-and-10 beast that we knew prior to injury. The Lakers would simply view him as a big body to help Davis in the post and on the boards. Cousins may become a poor man’s Zach Randolph (bruiser, great rebounder, minimal athleticism, solid post moves, average defense) if he isn’t able to get back to peak play. But that would be just enough for the Lakers to compete in the West.
The Lakers may have a few other options to turn to if they don’t see the aforementioned players as viable pieces in their pursuit of a title. This upcoming Free Agent class is full of veterans on their final runs, who may be enticed by title promises. There are a few guys who would be bigger additions to the Lakers roster if they were willing to accept less money than what the market may be offering them.
Paul Millsap has gotten his big dues over the past few seasons. Coming off a $30M contract year, he may be willing to accept less money in pursuit of a title. Adding him to this roster may not be ideal, as it pits Davis at the C position. But his play would bolster the Lakers the most of any available Free Agents.
Millsap is a gritty, low-maintenance veteran who can compliment just about any team/player. His strength in the post would also allow Davis to stray from guarding bruising. And his versatility would give opposing teams another matchup nightmare to deal with. Though Millsap is an unlikely signing, the Lakers should be picking up the phone to gauge his interest.
Tristan Thompson is another veteran who is coming off a big contract and may be willing to accept the Mid-Level exception in pursuit of a title. Thompson owes LeBron some sort of thanks for the contract he was able to negotiate after LeBron’s run in Cleveland. Why not repay him by helping him win another ring in LA? Thompson is just about as perfect a fit next to Davis and LeBron as Howard was this season.
He may be a little high maintenance as he still seems to believe he deserves touches in the post but playing alongside LeBron again may temper his offensive expectations a bit. Thompson would also supply solid rebounding and post defense for a team looking to remain big in this small-ball era.
Not too long ago, Jeff Teague was a high-quality starting PG. Maybe he still is, but it doesn’t seem as though teams look at him as a 2nd/3rd tier PG any longer. The Lakers, if they’re able to sell Teague on taking a lesser deal for a championship ring push, wouldn’t need Teague to be a top tier starting PG.
He’d fit as a starting PG to relieve LeBron of playmaking duties, but LA wouldn’t require him to play 30+ MPG and get around 7 APG as we grew accustomed to seeing from him in Atlanta. Instead, he’d simply be another playmaker, filling in for Rajon Rondo. He’d also add slightly better shooting at the position as he’s a career 35.6% shooter (on 2.4 attempts per game).
Jae Crowder has played for 6 teams in his 8-year career. Normally, 6 teams in 8 years would mean that a player just isn’t good enough to fit a rotation. However, in Crowder’s case, he’s just become a coveted player for many teams. Crowder fits at either forward position as a 3-and-D bruiser.
His playstyle is a combination of Houston forwards Robert Covington and P.J. Tucker. He’s a versatile defender who is willing to take on tough assignments; something that LeBron needs as he’s now in his late 30s. He also adds streaky shooting, better than many of LA’s current rotational forwards.
Aron Baynes is not the same player that the San Antonio Spurs picked up in 2012. Initially, he was a low-usage back-to-the-basket big man who could occasionally hit the mid-range jumper. Now, Baynes is a full-blown shooter. With the Celtics in ‘18-’19, Baynes extended his range, shooting 34.4% from the 3-point line, on 1.2 attempts per game.
This season, he’s hitting 35.1% on 4.0 attempts. Adding a 3-point shot to his game hasn’t hurt his interior play much either. He’s still a solid rebounder and above-average defender, who is willing to protect the rim no matter what. His fit next to LeBron and Davis may be the best fit of all the players listed here.
Derrick Favors is another ‘if Howard walks’ insurance player (just like DeMarcus Cousins). He doesn’t add outside shooting like the other big men mentioned (besides Howard), but after playing C full-time last season with the New Orleans Pelicans, he’s shown that he can rebound at an elite level while playing solid defense in the post.
Favors will likely demand a bigger contract on the market, but he may just want to for a contender as he’s only seen the playoffs 4x in his 10-year NBA career.
The Los Angeles Lakers need another PG. Yes, Alex Caruso and Quinn Cook can both play that role. But neither player has exhibited consistency as playmakers. Their main playmaker behind LeBron this season was Rajon Rondo, who may depart in Free Agency this summer. Filling that role with a playmaker/shooter is a must; insert D.J. Augustin.
Augustin’s fit next to LeBron is nearly perfect. His only setback would be his lackluster defense as his size hinders him on that side of the court. However, his shooting ability along with his ability to create for others matches 2 of the Lakers’ needs.
Other Possible Mid-Level Exceptions or Vet Minimums: Jordan Clarkson, Goran Dragic, Marc Gasol, Maurice Harkless, Markieff Morris, Austin Rivers, Hassan Whiteside, Marvin Williams
2020-2021 Season Outlook
Regardless of the outcome of this season for the Lakers, this offseason is going to be a tough one with Davis’ impending decision. The Lakers can only hope he accepts his player option and they’re able to round out their lineup with a few ring-chasing veterans who are willing to accept lesser, but still meaningful, roles.
If Davis does decline his option, the Lakers may see their title window with LeBron come to a sudden close as there aren’t any Free Agents on Davis’ level this offseason. In that case, we’ll be seeing the Lakers all over the trade rumor mill, shopping just about every player not named LeBron, in order to land another star to compete in the tough Western Conference.