LeBron James is often credited with starting the “player empowerment” era in the NBA. Since his highly-criticized decision to leave Cleveland for Miami in the summer of 2010, the league’s stars became more willing to relocate.
These players often try to team-up with fellow All-Stars to give themselves the best chance at winning a championship, but Kevin Durant’s arrival in Golden State in 2016 angered many fans who thought him joining Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green formed an overpowered team. The Warriors were so dominant that people questioned if it was worth watching the NBA when everyone knew who the champion would be.
This past offseason saw several of the game’s top players change teams once again. The result of these moves, though, was a general balance amongst both conferences that excited the masses as the NBA title was once a competitive race. But it won’t likely be that way for long, especially with James having a prime opportunity to recruit in the Orlando bubble, so here are three players the Lakers could acquire next season to form the NBA’s next great superteam.
The Lakers don’t have a large number of draft picks or attractive assets and still need to extend Anthony Davis, so these three potential additions would likely require trading a combination of Kyle Kuzma, Danny Green (expiring contract), Alex Caruso (expiring contract) Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (player-option), Avery Bradley (expiring contract), Quinn Cook, as well as one or two first-round picks.
3. Zach LaVine
LaVine is owed just $19.5 million in each of the next two seasons, according to basketball-reference, so he’s the most realistic trade target for a Lakers team that will likely pay over $80 million to James and Davis alone next year. The 25-year-old shooting guard had his best season on a lowly Bulls team in 2019-2020, averaging career-highs in points (25.5), steals (1.5) and made 3-pointers per game (3.1).
LaVine is now one of the league’s top perimeter scorers and showcased a drastically improved jumper. He can create his own shot and play off-ball, with his top-tier athleticism always keeping opposing defenders wary of backdoor cuts for dunks.
Alongside James and Davis, LaVine would shine as the go-to perimeter scorer. He’d get plenty of open jumpers from either James making a great pass or defenders doubling Davis on the block, so LaVine could realistically increase his shooting lethality even more than he already has. LaVine isn’t a ball-stopper either and would fit well in the unselfish style of play the Lakers exhibit under Frank Vogel.
Chicago doesn’t look like a team trending toward contention. If LaVine wants out, L.A. is his best landing spot.
2. Bradley Beal
Like LaVine, Beal had his best year in 2019-2020, setting new career-highs in points (30.5), assists (6.1), 3-pointers made (3) and free throws made per game (6.8). Although the wizards weren’t a winning team with him on the floor, Beal proved he can be a team’s No.1 scoring option.
He’s owed nearly $29 million next season and over $70 million in the following two years, so L.A. has to move some pieces around to fit him in the cap. Still, Beal alongside Davis and James is a strong enough core to not need a stellar supporting cast. Beal can create off the dribble, shoot from all angles and distances and is comfortable playing with ball-dominant players, which he did with John Wall.
Beal’s defense is sometimes criticized, but it’s hard for a player to lock-in on that end when his team doesn’t have a real chance at winning on most nights. On a contender, Beal should elevate his play on both ends and also become more efficient.
He appears happy in Washington as of now. If Wall isn’t the same player after returning from his injury, Beal could want out.
1. Damian Lillard
Continuing the trend, Lillard had career-highs in points (28.9), assists (7.8) and 3-pointers made per game (3.9) on the best shooting splits of his career. The 30-year-old Trailblazers superstar signed a five-year max extension last summer, so his contract combined with his love for Portland makes him the most difficult acquisition of the three for the Lakers.
But his fit would arguably be the best of three. Lillard is the most lethal shooter and best playmaker, as well as the most proven playoff performer of the bunch. All these qualities are what James and Davis need if they’re to create the next dominant big-three and become a dynasty, so L.A. should do everything in its power to trade for him.
Lillard deserves a chance to win at the highest level. Portland, for as well as he’s treated there, won’t likely build a contender around him anytime soon. He should seriously consider leaving if he wants to win rings. It’s very respectable if he doesn’t desire to leave because he’s repeatedly said he’s loyal to the organization. It’d just be so fun to see him play with other stars.
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