After a disappointing first-round exit, the Los Angeles Lakers potentially have the biggest offseason ahead of them. For starters, it’s clear that the team cannot compete with just LeBron James and this roster. The loss of Anthony Davis made this team vulnerable for the future, which means that the Lakers will need to retool this roster.
LeBron is 36 years old and has just two years left on his contract. He will turn 37 years old in December, so the Lakers realistically have a two-year window to win at least one more championship before Father Time takes his toll on LeBron.
There are a lew of players that could or could not return with the team. These decisions have major implications for the team moving forward. Here is the list of impending free agents for the Lakers.
- Talen Horton-Tucker (restricted)
- Kostas Antetokounmpo (restricted)
- Devontae Cacok (restricted)
- Andre Drummond (free agent)
- Dennis Schroder (free agent)
- Alex Caruso (free agent)
- Jared Dudley (free agent)
- Wesley Matthews (free agent)
- Ben McLemore (free agent)
- Markieff Morris (free agent)
- Montrezl Harrell (player option)
Realistically, the Lakers cannot bring all of these players back to the team. Another reality that the team must face is that the Lakers will need to bring in a third superstar to pair with an older LeBron and fragile Anthony Davis. Outside of the Big 3, the supporting cast will need to also be perfect.
Winning championships in the NBA is difficult. It takes skill constructing a roster, but also a little bit of luck. This offseason is critical because the Lakers cannot mess this up and waste the final two years of LeBron’s career.
Before the Lakers can sign anybody, the team should try and rekindle any value they can get on impending free agents that could leave. The Lakers cannot afford to keep Andre Drummond. As expected, Drummond is likely going to receive a lucrative offer after averaging 17.5 points and 13.5 rebounds during the regular season.
Drummond showed off his rebounding numbers in the playoffs, but never provided the scoring. The Lakers will likely not bring back Drummond, but it would be best to find a sign-and-trade partner. The same goes for Alex Caruso and Dennis Schroder.
Schroder seems like a potential candidate to re-sign, but the Lakers can’t keep his salary on the team if they want to bring in a third superstar. Schroder, the 2020 Sixth Man of the Year runner-up, averaged 15.4 points and 5.8 assists in the regular season and could command a salary as high as $20 million per season.
With the salary, as well as the potential $10 million salary Caruso could command, the Lakers need to save that combined $30 million and use it on a more explosive player. The Lakers can move this salary and bring back potential low-cost veterans to receive the highest value possible.
Re-Sign Talen Horton-Tucker
Before we get into superstar specifics, the Lakers need to find a way to re-sign the 20-year old Talen Horton-Tucker. In his second season, Horton-Tucker averaged 9.0 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 2.8 assists.
The Lakers have to get this deal done at a reasonable cost. There were rumors that the Lakers refused to complete a deal for former All-Star and championship guard Kyle Lowry because the Raptors wanted Horton-Tucker in return. With the Lakers out in the first round, it looks really bad given the state of the team.
Horton-Tucker is the former No. 46 overall pick of the 2020 NBA Draft. He has displayed flashes of being a key contributor in this league. However, if you kept this player and refused a deal for a six-time All-Star in Lowry, you better find a way to bring him back to your franchise.
The Best Superstar Targets
Let’s say that the Lakers re-sign Horton-Tucker and Alex Caruso. The Lakers could use both of those players and flip them in a deal for one of two superstars. The trade market is going to be hot this offseason with both Damian Lillard and Bradley Beal among trade candidates. Either franchise would potentially take a trade package with Talen Horton-Tucker, Alex Caruso, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma, and Montrezl Harrell.
Let’s start with Lillard. While he might be loyal to the city of Portland, there has to be a point in time that you realize that there just isn’t enough talent to bring the city a championship. Lillard has lost in the first round of the playoffs in four of the last nine playoff series. He has made the Conference Finals just one time in his career while missing out on the NBA Finals in all of his years in the league.
That resume has led the Trail Blazers to mutually agreeing to part ways with Terry Stotts after nine years. Lillard and Stotts had a close relationship, so one has to wonder if the Trail Blazers or Lillard is ready to blow up this team. If that means that he could be traded, the Lakers will need to seriously consider making an offer to try and land the All-NBA First Team selection.
In the Eastern Conference, the Washington Wizards are an enigma. There is no word on the timetable for creating an extension for Scott Brooks. There are rumors that Russell Westbrook could play for his fourth team in four seasons, especially with the Knicks bowing out in the first round. That means that Bradley Beal, the runner-up to Steph Curry in the scoring race, could be on the market with one year left on his deal.
A similar package could be sent to the Wizards if Washington is ready to build from scratch. After losing in the first round, there is no real hope that the team can contend for a championship. That could make the team more likely to swing a deal with Beal, and the Lakers could be ready to pounce at the opportunity.
The Best Alternatives
One of the biggest obstacles will be that the Lakers will not have money to support the roster outside of LeBron, Davis, and potentially a third superstar. The team can offer mid-level contracts, or sign veterans at a low cost that want to make a run at a championship.
Some of those alternatives include CJ McCollum, Myles Turner, Kemba Walker, Buddy Hield, or John Wall. These are some of the scenarios that could play out to get those players:
CJ McCollum (Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, Alex Caruso, a future first-round pick)
Myles Turner (Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, a future first-round pick)
Kemba Walker (Dennis Schroder], Kyle Kuzma, Alex Caruso)
Buddy Hield (Kyle Kuzma, Alex Caruso, multiple second round-picks)
John Wall (agreement if Rockets reach buyout)
If they can't land Damian Lillard or Bradley Beal, then they should try to land one of those assets. The best scenario would be if they can sign John Wall (after he reaches a buyout) and land Myles Turner or CJ McCollum.
John Wall is back, and with 20.6 points and 6.9 assists, he would be a good addition to the Lakers' starting lineup.
The purple and gold need a top-level center, and Myles Turner is one of the best defenders in the league, but if they can't land him, they should focus on CJ McCollum. The Trail Blazers guard could bring a lot of points for the Lakers and they would finally have a consistent scorer on their roster.
The Best Available Free Agents
If finding a trade partner does not work out, there are quite a few options in the free market, too. Yes, it would be very tough to land any of those names but one call from LeBron James can change everything.
Mike Conley, who secured his first All-Star appearance in his career in 2021, would be a great fit at point guard. Assuming that Schroder leaves, Conley would be a vast upgrade. The Lakers could look to bring back DeRozan to L.A. He is a hometown native that could take over a shooting guard. LeBron could move to point guard and DeRozan could help lessen the scoring load.
There is Oladipo, who is a sign-and-trade candidate. The Heat would likely take a package that includes Schroder, Kuzma, and Caruso. That would make the Heat contenders again, while the Lakers would receive a great two-way player when healthy.
Lowry is an option through the sign-and-trade market, but he will be a tough one due to his loyalty in Toronto. Fournier could take a mid-level contract, which would be less money, but he could try and compete for a championship for the first time in his career, so there is a legitimate appeal in that aspect. Dragic could have his team option rejected. The 35-year old would save the Heat $19 million and could take a lesser deal to backup LeBron and make a run at a title.
That goes the same for both Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose. Anthony is 37 years old and has never played in an NBA Finals. Rose is 32 years old, finally healthy, and wants to win a ring. Both players are really great fits with the Lakers given their history in the league.
The Lakers Superteam And Last Chance For LeBron To Win A Title
The perfect scenario would be to land Lillard by trade, sign DeRozan to a mid-level or sign and trade with players, and sign a player like Dwight Howard, Daniel Theis, or Gorgui Dieng. The Lakers would be unstoppable with Lillard, DeRozan, LeBron, and Davis. It would take some real convincing in getting DeRozan to take less money, but he is the most likely to complete the deed in pursuit of a title.
If DeRozan didn’t join, a Big 3 of Lillard, LeBron, and Davis alone would set the league on fire. That would give LeBron a true chance of competing for a title in his potential two final years in the league. Lillard would finally have help in competing for the first time in his career. Filling out the roster would be difficult, but it feels like players would want to flock to this roster if these three were together.
In the end, LeBron is running out of time. He only has four championships and wants that title of greatest of all time. The only way he has a shot of overtaking Michael Jordan is by winning the fifth ring. With this roster, as well as the looming free-agent decisions, it’s not going to happen.
The role players are not the same as the 2020 team that won in the bubble. LeBron needs a third superstar. He won titles with Wade and Bosh, as well as Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. Pairing LeBron and Davis with either Lillard, DeRozan, or Beal gives him the best chance to accomplish this goal. With the offseason starting sooner than they thought, it’s time to hit the ground running.