The Los Angeles Lakers won the championship in 2020 and the celebration in Los Angeles soon followed. But one man wasn’t ready to rest. That man was Rob Pelinka, the GM of the Los Angeles Lakers. While some contenders in the league got complacent, Rob Pelinka was thinking of new ways to improve the roster and maximize the talent that was present. On paper, he has certainly succeeded.
We won’t know what a team will fully look like in the future during the preseason; that would be foolish to assume. But we can look at some moves that were made, and evaluate how talented the roster is. The Lakers have trounced their competitors during the offseason. Let’s evaluate Rob Pelinka’s offseason strategy, and see what moves he made to put the Lakers in a prime position to repeat.
Honorable Mentions: Quinn Cook (re-signing), Jared Dudley (re-signing)
Signing Wesley Matthews
Wesley Matthews is an underrated signing. Matthews is a capable defender for the PG, SG, and SF positions, and can shoot the basketball well (38.1% Career 3PT). Putting another shooter on the roster is valuable, and that value compounds with the fact that Matthews is an acceptable defender.
Having him on the defensive end is almost more valuable than having him on the offensive end, as Matthews can give LeBron James more time to rest on the defensive end, taking on the more difficult assignments from PG to SF. James can thus save his energy for the playoffs, leading to better results for the Lakers.
Wesley Matthews is an acquisition for the regular season. He won’t move the needle in a big way during the postseason but is a nice player to have to soak up the minutes at the wing position. Matthews is the type of role player that thrives on the Lakers, and the Lakers knew that.
Re-Signing Markieff Morris
Markieff Morris is a solid role player. The Lakers overhauled their championship core around Anthony Davis and LeBron James, but Markieff Morris is one of the role players that remains on the roster from last year. Morris is a forward that can space the floor and be physical on the defensive end: he can take some time guarding big men and wings. As a versatile defender and shooter, Morris will see good minutes regardless of whether he starts or not.
Markieff Morris staying is a move that flew under the radar, but is an important one nonetheless. Morris can provide quality backup minutes at the PF position to Anthony Davis. Sometimes, a good player for a contender is someone who can accept a limited role on offense; Morris does just that.
Signing Marc Gasol
Marc Gasol was a massive piece of the Toronto Raptors championship roster during the 2018-2019 season. It is only natural that as he aged out of Toronto’s plans, a contender like the Lakers swooped in to sign him. Since Dwight Howard left, the Lakers needed to find a replacement that could play minutes at the C position and protect the inside.
Marc Gasol offers amazing basketball IQ and defense while having more upside than Howard on the offensive end. Gasol is a fantastic passer for a big man, and the Lakers will be the beneficiaries of that. On top of that Gasol is a good shooter for a big man, and can hit wide-open shots when spotted up from beyond the arc.
Gasol is a good player who can fill the basic needs at the C position. But it is his upside that is intriguing for the Lakers: last year, neither Dwight Howard nor JaVale McGee could shoot the ball or pass on a high level. Marc Gasol on the other hand is a more than adequate floor spacer and playmaker. The potential of a two-big lineup with the benefits of floor spacing is there, and the Lakers will surely experiment with it.
Re-Signing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is going to have a huge role next season. With Danny Green gone, most of the spot-up shots at the SG position are going to Caldwell-Pope. Caldwell-Pope was billed as inconsistent as earlier in his career, but perhaps winning cures everything. This year, he is going to have to play the floor spacer role for LeBron James: with more time playing with LeBron James under his belt, the chemistry can only go up from there. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is a good shooter (38.5% from 3PT in 2020), and next season should be more of the same.
Caldwell-Pope is a Klutch Sports client, which probably signaled his decision to re-sign with the Lakers before it was even made. Regardless, Caldwell Pope will be getting good minutes this year and could be an integral player on the roster once again.
Signing Montrezl Harrell
This was a move nobody expected. Some were expecting Harrell to re-sign with the Clippers. Others expected a move to a team where he would have a bigger role and could get a good contract. The Lakers moved in silence to execute a signing that even surprised Harrell’s former teammates such as Patrick Beverley.
On the Lakers, Harrell could work amazingly with players like Marc Gasol and Anthony Davis. Harrell’s biggest issue was getting exposed for being undersized against a big man like Nikola Jokic. But that may not matter if he gets to play like a C on offense while guarding the PF position on defense. Since Gasol and Davis can both shoot, they can space the floor and let Harrell score inside. They can also guard the traditional C playing for the other team while hiding Harrell on the smaller big man.
This move was a luxury move: but somehow, it happened. The Lakers took one of their rivals’ big men and put him on a roster where his weaknesses can be covered. The Lakers are in a unique position to make the most of Harrell’s strengths; Harrell realized that and bolted across to the other side of Los Angeles.
Trading For Dennis Schroder
The Lakers getting Dennis Schroder for Danny Green and the No. 28 pick is the biggest steal of the offseason. Green was one of the big underperformers in the playoffs: his 3PT% went from 36.7% from the regular season to only 33.9% in the playoffs. Green was a prime candidate to leave after the championship, and luckily for the Lakers, they were able to trade him.
This trade was a perfect trade for the Lakers, and Schroder provides tremendous ability at the guard position. Schroder is a capable scorer that can be the third option behind Anthony Davis and LeBron James. His 18.9 PPG this year isn’t even an accurate reflection of his ability to score, since he had to share the ball with two dominant ball handlers on OKC.
The Dennis Schroder trade had positive value for both sides, but the Lakers underpaid for a player that could be a fringe All-Star. Perhaps if the Lakers are dominating the league, Dennis Schroder can make his first All-Star game due to their popularity. Schroder can play like a star without the name recognition: this is why Dennis Schroder was one of the most important signings of the offseason.
Re-Signing Anthony Davis To A Max Contract
This contract must have been one of the top things on Rob Pelinka’s to-do list. While Anthony Davis was unlikely to leave, you don’t want to upset your superstar by taking too long to offer a contract. Anthony Davis eventually signed a five-year deal worth around 190 million dollars. Everyone knows what you get with Davis: a transcendent big man on both sides of the floor, and one who is the perfect teammate for LeBron James. Davis is going to be a Laker for years to come, and in terms of winning long term, this was the most important move.
As LeBron James succumbs to Father Time, the Lakers will need a superstar to carry them moving forward. Anthony Davis will be that player, and knowing the Lakers’ track record, other stars will join him. Anthony Davis was the most important signing for the future, and his immediate future lies in Los Angeles, to the delight of the Lakers.
Extending LeBron James To 2023
Just as much as Anthony Davis is the key to the future, LeBron James is the key to the now. We talked about LeBron James declining; as much as that is inevitable, that still hasn’t started happening yet. We’ve seen LeBron James adjust his playstyle this year to accommodate Anthony Davis: but he is still the best player in the world, and lower scoring numbers don’t mean much. LeBron James is the key to the Lakers creating a dynasty in the short term: any team that could convince LeBron James to sign with them would move mountains to make it happen.
LeBron James is a veteran superstar who is still in his prime. Giving him an extension was expected by all Lakers fans, and after he just won the championship during a pandemic, he has close to no haters in Los Angeles. LeBron James is the machine that keeps the Lakers roster working: Rob Pelinka made the obvious choice and ponied up the cash for the best player in the world.