The Los Angeles Lakers pulled off the summer’s biggest blockbuster after trading Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and the No. 22 overall pick to the Washington Wizards in exchange for Russell Westbrook. The addition of Westbrook gives the Lakers their new big three after a disappointing first-round playoff exit last season.
Despite the addition of Westbrook, questions are surrounding the Lakers franchise. Having four-time MVP LeBron James, one-time MVP Westbrook, and former MVP finalist Anthony Davis all on the same team will make this team a contender. With that said, the Lakers still have a lot of work to do and these ten questions will need to be answered.
10. Can LeBron James and Russell Westbrook coexist?
Both players have a very similar game. LeBron hasn’t averaged a usage percentage less than 30% since 2005. Westbrook’s game involves him heavily being used in the offense. According to advanced stats, Westbrook has led the league in usage rate two times, topping off at a career-high of 41.7% in 2016-2017. Westbrook’s usage rate in his team’s offense has exceeded 30% each season since 2010-2011. From 2011-2018, six of those seasons translated to at least five or more offensive win shares.
You also have to consider that the Lakers were at their best offensively when he was the team’s point guard. In 2019-2020, LeBron led the league in assists, where he assisted on 49.1% of the team’s offensive plays. The move will require one player, likely LeBron, to switch a position.
9. Who will shoot threes?
This Lakers team is going to struggle from three-point land if no upgrades are coming their way. At first, many believed that Kuzma and Harrell were traded for Buddy Hield, who would have been a perfect fit for this team. Instead, they traded their No. 1 and No. 2 three-point shooters.
Kuzma made 137 three-point field goals last year, while Caldwell-Pope made 120. That leaves LeBron James (104) as the only player from last year that made over 100 three-pointers. Last year, LeBron technically led the team with 2.3 per game over Kuzma (2.0), but he played 23 fewer games than Kuzma. Westbrook is not a good outside shooter, shooting just 31.5% from outside.
8. Will Andre Drummond take less money to stay?
There is good reason to believe that Andre Drummond is going to leave. Before the season ended, Drummond believed he was a max contract player. Before coming to Los Angeles, Drummond averaged 17.5 points and 13.5 rebounds per game. In 21 games for the Lakers, Drummond averaged 11.9 points and 10.2 rebounds.
While those aren’t maxed contract numbers, Drummond should still command a high salary elsewhere. Plus, if Davis moves to the center, they will have a backup in Marc Gasol, leaving Drummond on the outside. It looks like this is going to be a mutual decision for both parties to end their relationship.
7. Where will Dennis Schroder be traded?
Schroder could make anywhere between $15-$24 million in salary. Schroder has been linked to the Spurs and the Bulls in the past. For now, the Westbrook addition spells the end for Schroder. Where will he go?
The Lakers could still look to acquire Buddy Hield. Schroder would be a great fit for the Kings, while Hield would make up for the lack of outside shooters. Either way, there are going to be a lot of rumors swirling around the destination of the 2020 Sixth Man of the Year runner-up.
6. Are the Lakers done adding superstars?
Right now, if you take off the contracts of Harrell, Kuzma, and KCP, the Lakers have LeBron, Westbrook, Davis, Marc Gasol, and Alfonzo McKinnie (non-guaranteed) on the active roster. These players have a combined salary of $122 million if you take out McKinnie’s salary. Last year, the NBA held a $109 million cap and a $132.6 million tax line.
The Lakers are dangerously close to the tax line and have potentially eight roster spots to fill out. You factor that the Lakers could bring back Ben McClemore, Markieff Morris, and Jared Dudley for a combined $5 million. When it comes to superstars, the team will likely be done, but when it comes to former superstars looking to win, for example being Blake Griffin on the buyout market, keep an eye out for that. Specifically, look at the John Wall situation in Houston.
5. Who will fill the bench?
As noted from the previous question, salary limits and luxury tax thresholds will dictate a lot of questions. For now, you have five players on the active roster if they keep McKinnie. You might be able to keep Mclemore, Morris, and Dudley on the team. Assuming these players stay, the Lakers will need to find roster spots for four more players.
Let’s look at the tea leaves. Schroder, Drummond, and Wes Matthews are likely out. The biggest question surrounds Talen Horton-Tucker, who was the key piece in voiding a potential trade with Kyle Lowry. Horton-Tucker was viewed as a young contributor for this team and could be the team’s starting small forward if he stays, but for how much? That question also goes for Alex Caruso, who could make up to $10 million in salary.
4. Will Anthony Davis continues to refuse to move to center?
For the last couple of years, Davis has been hesitant to move to the center position. His natural position is a power forward, but with the addition of Westbrook, he could move to cycle positions. According to Bleacher Report, Lebron, Davis, and Westbrook all met at the home of LeBron and discussed pushing their egos aside. That includes Davis mentioning moving to center and LeBron moving to power forward.
Putting LeBron and Davis in the frontcourt would allow Westbrook to slide back to point guard. How this translates into overall win shares will be up to head coach Frank Vogel and his staff.
3. Can this team truly rely on Alex Caruso as the starting shooting guard?
For now, ESPN has Alex Caruso labeled as the team’s shooting guard. Granted, it also has Drummond and Schroder listed on the roster, but let’s just pretend that the Lakers re-signed Caruso and he is the second starting guard on the team.
Caruso has never averaged more than 9.2 points in his career, which he did in his second season (2018-2019) in the league. Plus, there are reports suggesting that the deal for Westbrook is the end of Caruso’s tenure in Los Angeles. Caruso is a fan favorite in Laker nation, but at the end of the day, he can’t be your starting shooting guard.
2. Is DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry joining completely out?
Before the Lakers acquired Westbrook, rumors were suggesting that the Lakers made a deal for DeMar DeRozan. After all, DeRozan publicly stated that he would have an interest in returning to California to play for the Lakers. That also prompted rumors about Kyle Lowry, his former teammate in Toronto, joining him.
Both veterans have ties to the Lakers. DeRozan is a hometown hero, while Lowry was nearly dealt with the Lakers at the trade deadline. With the addition of Lowry, it almost feels like he has zero chance of coming to the Lakers unless he takes less money and regulates to a backup position. Lowry has not shown any signs of slowing down, so that seems unlikely. As for DeRozan, his potential $20 million salary or more should all but seal his fate from coming home.
1. Can this team win a championship?
The big three of Westbrook, LeBron, and Davis will make the Lakers one of the top-ranked teams in the league from star power alone. But, the rest of the moves will dictate if this team is good enough to win. When the Nets made moves for James Harden, Blake Griffin, and LaMarcus Aldridge, they navigated through the buyout market. The Lakers don’t even have a full roster and not a lot of money to work with.
Filling out the rest of the roster is now the biggest challenge. One positive is that the Lakers have made themselves a destination for veterans to take less money to win a championship. LeBron is going to be 37 years old and can’t carry this team on his shoulders as he did in his youth. He needs more help than Westbrook. If that happens, the Lakers should be a candidate to make the NBA Finals.