The Los Angeles Lakers finished the 2021-22 season earlier this week as one of the most disappointing teams in NBA history. They featured five future Hall-of-Famers, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook, Dwight Howard, and Carmelo Anthony, but lost 49 games and finished outside the play-in tournament.
The Purple and Gold suffered from poor injury luck throughout the year. LeBron James and Anthony Davis missed significant time with varying ailments, point guard Kendrick Nunn was sidelined the entire season after suffering from a bone bruise in his knee, and nearly every role player was bit by the injury bug. The Lakers ended the season by playing 727 different five-man units, the most in the league.
Still, the Lakers roster was a disaster. Russell Westbrook struggled to coexist with LBJ and AD, Kent Bazemore and Trevor Ariza couldn’t provide the type of two-way play the Lakers desperately needed, and Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan proved incapable of supplying backline defense.
A major shakeup is coming during the offseason.
Head coach Frank Vogel was the first domino to fall as a harbinger of what will come this summer.
The Los Angeles Lakers will be one of the most active organizations during the 2022 offseason as they attempt to construct a winning roster around LeBron James.
Below we’ll rank three realistic superteams the Lakers can create during the summer.
3. The Lakers Finally Ship Russell Westbrook To The Rockets
Los Angeles Lakers Receive: Christian Wood, John Wall
Houston Rockets Receive: Russell Westbrook, Talen Horton-Tucker
Los Angeles Lakers Starting Lineup: John Wall, Malik Monk, LeBron James, Christian Wood, Anthony Davis
Our proposed Houston trade is nothing new if you’re a Lakers fan. The Lakers and Rockets were close to signing off on a deal centered around Russell Westbrook and John Wall at the trade deadline before LA management pulled out, wary of including their 2027 First-Round pick. Still, we’re being realistic here, and despite the dozens of Lakers trade rumors flying through the internet, this could be the most compelling offer the Purple and Gold get for Russell Westbrook and his massive contract.
If you’re a Lakers fan, you might also scoff at a lineup featuring John Wall and Malik Monk in the backcourt as a “superteam.”
Let’s go back two years. The Purple and Gold were 36-13 with Avery Bradley as their starting point guard before he opted out of playing in the bubble. Avery Bradley has the reputation as a top-tier defender, but the numbers disagree. He has a -0.3 Defensive Box Plus/Minus for his career and a ho-hum 109 Defensive Rating. Bradley is also far from an excellent three-point shooter capable of spreading the floor for James and Davis. Bradley clocks in with a 32.3% career mark from deep, and during the Lakers championship 2019-20 season, he shot 36.4% from beyond the arc.
John Wall is far from a sure thing. He sat out the entire 2021-22 season as the Rockets decided to give their rookies extended minutes in an obvious tank job. Wall is also coming off an Achilles tear in his left foot that has certainly sapped some of his explosion. At the same time. Wall is only 31-years-old, and we’ve seen Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson (each player suffered an Achilles tear) excel this season as our surgical techniques have advanced. A torn Achilles isn’t the NBA death sentence it once was. Wall has better defensive metrics over Bradley with a -0.1 DBPM and 107 DEFRTG. And while Wall isn’t the prototypical floor spreading guard you’d like to pair with LBJ, his long distance shot isn’t broken. He has a 32.3 career average from deep, and he topped out in 2018 with a 37.1% three-point hit rate off 4.1 attempts.
John Wall should be a better overall point guard for the Lakers next season than 2019-20 Avery Bradley.
Lakers fans tend to have a short memory, but a large fraction of Purple and Gold diehards hated 2019-20 starting shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope before he played the hero during the postseason. During the 2019-20 season, KCP had a 47.0 Defensive Field Goal percentage, allowing his assignments to connect on a 1.8% hit rate above their normal average. He was far from a lockdown wing routinely getting bullied by larger players on the block, and half the league hunted him on switches.
This season, Malik Monk played on a Lakers team that was one of the poorest defensive squads in the league, with little to no backline defense to help clean up his perimeter mistakes. Despite it all, Monk ended the year with a 48.2 DFG%, only a tad higher than KCP’s 2019-20 mark. Monk is clearly the more dynamic offensive player, a sweet-shooting wing with an explosive first step and excellent finishing skills at the rim.
The Los Angeles Lakers suffered through a horrendous 2021-22 season because of Russell Westbrook’s fit and attitude combined with rotten injury luck and an aged group of role players.
AD is in his prime, and LBJ just finished second in the league in scoring. If Lakers management surrounds their superstar duo with Wall, Monk, and Wood, this team will have a true identity. James could return to being the primary playmaker. Davis could focus on crashing toward the rim while Monk and Wood would supply spacing with their outside strokes, and Wall would give the Purple and Gold supplementary passing. On the less fun end, the Lakers would be long and athletic in the frontcourt, and Wall and Monk would be similar, if not better, than Bradley and KCP from two years ago.
Lakers management could scour the market for one or two low-cost centers like Hassan Whiteside, Dewayne Dedmon, or Bismack Biyombo, while Kendrick Nunn, Austin Reaves, Stanley Johnson, and Wenyen Gabriel would round out the bench.
This Lakers squad, barring injury, would finish inside the top-4 out west with a real chance of making noise in the postseason.
From Houston’s perspective, this deal is an easy decision. They’d swap the final year of Wall’s massive contract for the last year of Westbrook’s equally huge deal while adding THT, 21, who is an ideal fit with their youth movement. The Rockets would also land a future asset with the Lakers’ 2027 first-round pick.
2. The Lakers Strike A Deal With The Jazz And Hornets
Los Angeles Lakers Receive: Rudy Gobert, Royce O’Neal, 2023 First-Round Pick, 2025 Second-Round Pick
Utah Jazz Receive: Anthony Davis
Los Angeles Lakers Receive: Gordon Hayward, Kelly Oubre Jr.
Charlotte Hornets Receive: Russell Westbrook, 2027 First-Round Pick
Los Angeles Lakers Starting Lineup: Kendrick Nunn, Gordon Hayward, Kelly Oubre Jr., LeBron James, Rudy Gobert
The Lakers swap Anthony Davis for Rudy Gobert, Royce O’Neal, and two future picks in our second scenario. AD is a more talented player than Rudy Gobert when he’s right. The problem for the Lakers is that Davis hasn’t been able to avoid the injury bug over the last couple of seasons, and their GOAT power forward, LeBron, is 37-years-old with only one or two more MVP seasons left. The Purple and Gold don’t have the time to muddle through another season with “The Brow” in and out of the lineup.
Rudy Gobert is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year who offers the most effective rim protection and weakside defense in the league while rarely missing time with injury. He single-handedly led a Utah Jazz squad full of disinterested perimeter defenders to the 11th ranked defense this season. He’d likely propel the 2022-23 Lakers into the top-10 with his play on the less exciting end.
Rudy Gobert led the league in assist screen points with 15.3 per game. The Stifle Tower has created countless bone-crushing walls for Donovan Mitchell over the past couple of seasons before rolling hard to the rim after crushing an opposing wing. Unfortunately, Spida continually looked Gobert off at the rack for his own shot or for a dish to another teammate behind the arc. At his peak, Mitchell (career 4.5 APG) is a mediocre passer who prefers to score than to get his center involved. Imagine what Gobert would do with LeBron, one of the most talented playmakers in the league? LBJ is a master at hitting his big man on rolls to the rim or hard cuts. James and Gobert would form an instant synergy, torturing opposing defenses.
The Lakers would also receive much-needed wing help with Royce O’Neal coming to LA in our trade. At 6-4, 226-pounds with a 6-9 wingspan, O’Neal has the prototypical size to harass wings on the perimeter, and he has a solid 2.0 Defensive Box Plus/Minus for his career. He’s also an accurate three-point marksman with a 38.1% career mark from deep. O'Neal is Utah's best 3-and-D player, and he would be a valuable addition to the Lakers' bench.
In our second trade, the Lakers would clear Russell Westbrook by sending him to Charlotte for Gordon Hayward and Kelly Oubre Jr.
Gordon Hayward’s four-year, $120 million contract has held up poorly. Hayward hasn’t played over 52 games during any of the last five seasons, and he only managed to suit up for 49 contests this season.
Hayward is the price the Lakers must pay to find Westbrook a new home, but it’s not all bad for the Lakers. When Gordon Hayward has been available, he’s played a steady brand of basketball, averaging 15.9 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 3.6 APG, 1.0 SPG, and 0.4 BPG. He’s also an excellent three-point shooter who’d slide in nicely next to LeBron James and Gobert as an intelligent wing capable of creating his own shot when necessary and who’s also adept at swinging the ball to his teammates, keeping the offense flowing.
Kelly Oubre Jr. would give the Lakers another much-needed young wing. He shot a decent 34.5% from deep in 2021-22 while demonstrating the ability to get the rack where he finished 71.6% of his shots this year. Oubre Jr. has all the tools to become an excellent perimeter defender, but he’s never ended a season with a positive Defensive Box Plus/Minus. The Lakers would have to hope that LBJ and Gobert’s presence would inspire Oubre Jr. to put his physical attributes to use as the Lakers’ lockdown wing defender.
A combination of Kendrick Nunn and Gordon Hayward in the Lakers’ starting lineup would be excellent on offense, a perfect floor-spreading fit next to LeBron. They’d struggle some on defense, but with Gobert waiting in the lane, Nunn and Hayward could crowd their assignments on the perimeter, taking away their long bombs and daring them to make something happen at the rim. Oubre Jr., James, and Gobert would form into a top-tier frontcourt, capable of giving opposing teams fit on both ends of the court.
The Lakers would have Royce O’Neal waiting in the wings for the eventual Gordon Hayward injury, and Talen Horton-Tucker, Austin Reaves, Stanley Johnson, and Wenyen Gabriel would form a solid bench rotation along with a low-cost point guard and center, GM Rob Pelinka, would have to find in free agency.
This Lakers squad would feature an explosive offense centered around LBJ’s playmaking and a top-10 defense, with Gobert manning the middle.
From Utah’s perspective, it’s become clear that Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert don’t enjoy playing with each other. Gobert has chafed at Mitchell’s lack of defensive intensity and the way he ignores him on the block. At the same time, Mitchell has had a problem with The Stifle Tower’s intense and domineering attitude throughout the last couple of seasons. The Jazz would land AD, a top-20 player to pair with Mitchell in what would become one of the most lethal duos in the league.
Charlotte has a superstar in the making with LaMelo Ball, but they’re still a superstar away from becoming genuine title contenders. If the Hornets were to trade Hayward and Oubre Jr. for Westbrook, they’d clear their cap sheet after only one year with Brodie. This would leave enough money to chase a max player during the summer of 2023.
1. The Lakers Add Depth Through Two Separate Trades With The Hawks And Pacers
Los Angeles Lakers Receive: John Collins, Clint Capela, De’Andre Hunter, 2022 First-Round Pick, 2026 Second-Round Pick
Atlanta Hawks Receive: Anthony Davis
Los Angeles Lakers Receive: Malcolm Brogdon, Buddy Hield
Indiana Pacers Receive: Russell Westbrook, 2027 First-Round Pick
Los Angeles Lakers Starting Lineup: Malcolm Brogdon, Buddy Hield, LeBron James, John Collins, Clint Capela
The first trade in our last scenario would see the Lakers send Anthony Davis to the Hawks for John Collins, Clint Capela, De’Andre Hunter, and two future draft picks. From a financial perspective, this trade doesn't quite work. The Lakers would have to add another player to this deal. Talen Horton-Tucker would serve, or they could add Malik Monk in a sign and trade. Either way, the bones for this deal are clear.
The Lakers would trade Anthony Davis and his incredible skill set for the less talented but dependable services of Capela and Collins.
Clint Capela is an excellent defensive center with a solid career double-double of 12.4 PPG and 10.7 RPG. Capela is a capable rim protector averaging 9.7 contested shots per game for the Atlanta Hawks this season. He’s also one of the premier defensive rebounders in the league, and most importantly, he’s durable, rarely missing time over his previous two seasons. Capela doesn’t provide anywhere close to the offensive repertoire of Anthony Davis, but he’s an excellent screener, and he rolls to the rim hard, where he finishes at ease.
John Collins slides in nicely next to Capela in the frontcourt as a floor-spreading big man with a 37.6% career mark from deep. Collins also features a smooth mid-range jumper. He hit 43.2% of his attempts from 10 to 16 feet and 48.8% of his shots from 16 feet to the arc in 2021-22. Collins isn’t merely a jump shooting big man. He was one of the most talented roll men in the league finishing in the 94th percentile this season on his dives to the rack. John Collins isn’t known as a top-tier defender, but he holds his own on the less glamorous end. He led the Hawks during 2021-22 in defensive field goal attempts at 14.3 nightly and held his assignments to a solid 48.1% clip from the field.
The Lakers would also add De’Andre Hunter, an excellent young 3-and-D wing who would add depth to their bench. Hunter, 24, is coming off his most productive season, averaging 13.4 PPG while shooting 37.9% from beyond the arc and playing solid perimeter defense.
The Lakers would send Russell Westbrook to the Pacers for Malcolm Brogdon and Buddy Hield in our second trade, creating a new backcourt in Hollywood.
Brogdon and Hield are both excellent offensive players. Brogdon averaged 19.1 PPG in 2021-22 while flashing a slow but effective first step he routinely used to get by his defenders, pressuring opposing defenders with his drive and kick passing or finishing ability at the rim. Buddy Hield finished the season averaging 18.2 PPG for the Pacers across 26 games as one of the league’s most reliable high-volume three-point shooters. While Brogdon and Hield flourished on the fun side, both players struggled to contain their assignments on defense, often getting beaten off simple moves to the basket by opposing guards.
Regardless of Brogdon and Hield’s defensive deficiencies, the Lakers would be thrilled to land both players in exchange for Russell Westbrook. The former Indiana guards would fit perfectly next to LeBron James as floor-spacing athletes who can create their own shots when necessary.
This Lakers squad would be built like the 2021-22 Celtics squad that finished second in the Eastern Conference. Like the Celtics (Jayson Tatum), the Lakers would have only one superstar, LBJ, and two mobile big men in the frontcourt, Clint Capela and John Collins. The Lakers backcourt wouldn’t be on par with the Celtics pairing of Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown defensively. However, they’d be superior on the fun end, regularly pressuring opposing teams with their shooting.
The Lakers bench would also be excellent with Kendrick Nunn and Austin Reaves in the backcourt. De'Andre Hunter and Stanley Johnson would fill out forward positions, and Lakers management could find a minimum-wage center.
This Lakers squad would feature 10 durable players who’d form instant chemistry with LeBron James and undoubtedly make noise in the postseason.
The Hawks would jump at the chance to land Anthony Davis. He’d fit perfectly next to Trae Young, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Kevin Huerter, and Danilo Gallinari, helping Atlanta push toward the top-6 in the deep Eastern Conference.
The Pacers finished 5-17 after the All-Star break with Hield and Brogdon in the backcourt. They need to start over, rebuilding around Tyrese Haliburton and Myles Turner. They could add on Westbrook’s $47 million for next season, and then in the summer of 2023, after his contract came off the books, look to add a max player or two or three excellent role players.
The Lakers Must Make Significant Changes In The Offseason
Russell Westbrook is as good as gone after his dreadful 2021-22 season that saw the Lakers train slide off the track, blowing up in a ball of flames. GM Rob Pelinka might stop with trading Westbrook, or he could look toward a complete reboot by sending out his constantly injured All-Star big man, Anthony Davis, for more durable players who LeBron can count on.
No matter what happens, the Lakers will look completely different in 2022-23, in what could be a season of redemption.