NBA 2022 Off-season guide: Los Angeles Lakers
Despite the greatest of expectations, it all just went wrong for the Los Angeles Lakers this season.
With Russell Westbrook joining Anthony Davis to form the latest iteration of a Big Three alongside LeBron James, this was the revenge season, the one to show that last seasons 1st round exit wasn’t what these Lakers were truly capable of. In that sense, the season proved prophetic. The Lakers of 2022 would have quite literally killed to reach the 1st round of the playoffs.
Now, with coach Frank Vogel sacrificed at the altar of public opinion, the Lakers will start next season with their fifth different head coach since Phil Jackson’s departure a decade ago. Heaven knows Vogel tried everything, using a whopping 39 different starting lineups this season. He’s a good coach, not a warlock.
Really, though: what is a new coach going to do with this mismatched, disturbingly shallow and shockingly overpriced roster?
How do the Lakers recover from here?
Let’s not mince words, here: the Lakers roster is a steaming mess.
James is still brilliant, but at age 37, having spent more than half his life in the NBA, he’s no longer the tide that lifts all boats. Anthony Davis is a truly magnificent basketballer. A dominant defensive presence and excellent scorer, he’s also apparently made out of biscuits. As for Russell Westbrook….well. Hands up who truly believed that the Westbrook acquisition was the home run that the team sold it as? Put your hand down Rob Pelinka!
‘Oh, but put all of these stars on the floor together’, I hear you say. The Lakers started the season 16-13 before losing Davis to a sprained MCL. That was good enough for 6th in the West at the time. Without doubt better than where they eventually finished up, but not exactly championship material either.
Surrounding those three stars is a mishmash of washed up veterans, youngsters with contracts to play for and scrubs who wouldn’t crack the rotations of about 20 other NBA squads.
Malik Monk was an unqualified success, though as a free agent his play this season has likely priced himself out of a Lakers return. Austin Reaves is a nice story, but he maxes out as a 5th guard on a good team. Carmelo Anthony provided some nice offensive moments. He was also magnanimous enough to let the man he was guarding enjoy some nice offensive moments of his own.
The rest of the roster? Ugh.
Dwight Howard is useful but played too many minutes. DeAndre Jordan was rightfully waived mid season. Kent Bazemore was awful. Talen Horton-Tucker looks overpaid.
Seriously, if the Lakers could afford it, they should just napalm the lot and start again.
Where to start?
Before we go into the particulars, the Lakers just need good, solid NBA talent. They lack depth at literally ever position, though there is an obvious reason for that (see below).
Moving into specifics, the Lakers are set at the four and five positions, as long as James and Davis are healthy (yeah, I know). On paper, they’re set at point guard, though clearly Westbrook doesn’t fit with this team. The options to replace him are frighteningly limited.
Another trade for John Wall has been mentioned often. Though Westbrook is the better player at this stage of their respective careers, Wall may be the better fit given his stouter defense and better shooting relative to Russ.
Another rumour being floated is a trade to Charlotte for Gordon Hayward and Terry Rozier. Frankly, why the Hornets would do this is beyond this writer’s comprehension. Sure, Hayward is overpaid, but so is Westbrook and his presence only limits the opportunities of presumed franchise saviour LaMelo Ball. That’s before we even account for losing the influential Rozier.
Barring a major surprise trade or a buyout, the Lakers are stuck with Russ at the one. To supplement the stars they have, the Lakers need shooting and wing defense. Kind of like what they had in Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
Limiting any trade options is the Lakers lack of draft capital and apparent reluctance to throw what they do have, namely a 2027 2st round pick, into any deals.
The Cap Sheet
Oh. My. God.
The Lakers have three (3) players under contract for next season: LeBron, AD and Horton-Tucker. They will cost upwards of $92 million. Throw in Westbrook and Kendrick Nunn who will both presumably opt in to their player options, and that swells to over $144 million for a starting five that would probably peak at around 50 wins, presuming good health.
So, for those playing at home, the NBA salary cap next season is expected to sit at around $122 million. The Lakers sit $22 million past that point without having a bench. It’s easy to see why this team is so thin.
The Lakers do have their mid-level exception to play with and THT’s contract is very tradable.
The Davis trade means that the Lakers have no picks in the upcoming draft. They traded their 1st as a part of the package to acquire Davis, the 2nd rounder going as a cap clearing measure to help afford his contract.
To rub salt into Laker wounds, the Pelicans hold swap rights with the Lakers on 2023 as well as the Lakers pick outright in 2024.
Help is not on the way.
Rob Pelinka must be very, very proud of himself.
This article also appears at leading independent media site FOOTYOLOGY.